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CMS Ireland team meets Muslim and Christian leaders in Egypt


Thursday 28th October 2004

A team from CMS Ireland including the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Dromore has spent a week in Cairo meeting religious and civic leaders, and drawing comparisons between the initiatives for dialogue and reconciliation in Ireland and the need for reconciliation and dialogue in the Middle East.

Dr John Neill, Archbishop of Dublin, and Dr John McAreavey, Bishop of Dromore, were in Egypt as the guests of the Bishop of Egypt, Dr Mouneer Hanna Anis. Their visit was arranged as part of the partnership between CMS Ireland (Church Mission Society Ireland) and the Diocese of Egypt, and they were accompanied by the President of CMS Ireland, Rev Professor RAB Mollan, the general secretary of CMS Ireland, Canon Cecil Wilson, and Rev Patrick Comerford, who co-ordinates CMS Irelands programme on Muslim-Christian dialogue.

At a seminar in All Saint Cathedral, Cairo, the two bishops spoke of the role of the churches in Northern Ireland in bringing people together across religious divides. Both Dr Neill and Dr McAreavey said they said they had been deeply moved by their first-hand experiences of the dialogue between the Anglican Communion and al-Azhar al-Sharif. The seminar was also addressed by Sheikh Fawzy el Zefzaf, President of the permament committee for dialogue with the monotheistic religions at al-Azhar al-Asharif, the principal seat of theological learning in the Sunni Muslim world.

Other speakers at the seminar on Catholic and Protestant Perspectives on the Conflict in Ireland included Bishop Mouneer and the Irish Ambassador to Egypt, Mr Richard OBrien. The seminar was attended by more than 100 delegates from the Islamic and Christian communities and by civic and diplomatic representatives in Egypt.

Archbishop Neill said he was encouraged by the continuing efforts of Bishop Mouneer, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawy, Sheikh Fawzy and other religious leaders in Egypt to promote the message that Christians and Muslims share a common task of working for peace and reconciliation in the region and in the world.

Archbishop Neill said that throughout the turbulent years of strife and violence in Ireland, the churches had grown closer together, sharing common ideals in the areas of justice, human rights and peace, sharing pastoral care for people in inter-church marriages, and speaking up for each others better interests.

Bishop McAreavey said the experience of Northern Ireland had taught him that when people of faith listened to each other and heard each others stories, they realised that their hope for the future could always overcome the hurt and divisions of the past. He said he believed people of faith in Egypt and the Middle East held out real hope for the people of the region, working together against division and violence and for peace and justice.

Both Bishop Mouneer and Sheikh Fawzy have accepted an invitation from Archbishop Neill and Bishop McAreavey for a return visit to Ireland in 2005.

In a separate statement, Archbishop Neill, Bishop McAreavey, Bishop Mouneer and Sheikh Fawzy called on the international community to intervene put an end to the bloody conflict that has befallen the people of Iraq. They also called on the international community to make every effort to secure a just solution to the Palestinian conflict and called on the group that has kidnapped Mrs Margaret Hassan to release her, pointing out that she has devoted her life to humanitarian work and the care of the people of Iraq.

At a meeting with the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Mr Amro Moussa, the church leaders shared their concerns about the current crises in Iraq and Palestine. Dr Neill and Dr McAreavey assured Mr Moussa that the war in Iraq did not have the support or sanction of the mainstream Christian Churches. During discussions with Egypts Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Abul Gheit, they expressed their disapproval of the notion that there is a clash of civilizations either between the Middle East and the Western world or between Christians and Muslims.

During their visit, the CMS Ireland team and the two bishops had separate meetings with Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Patriarch Stephanos II of the Coptic Catholic Church, the Apostolic Nuncio, Monsignor Marco Dino Brogi, the Governor of Menoufia, and the British and Irish ambassadors in Cairo.

During their week-long visit to Egypt, the group also visited the Harpur Memorial Hospital in Menouf, which was founded by Dr Frank Harpur from CMS Ireland in 1910. They then went on to visit the site of a new Harpur Memorial Hospital, which is being built in Sadat City with support from the Irish Government and CMS Ireland. There were separate visits to al-Azhar Mosque and Saint Makarius Coptic Orthodox Monastery, one of the earliest monastic foundations in Egypt.

For further information please contact:

Church of Ireland Press Office 
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Belfast, BT1 2QH 

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Paul Harron

+44 (0)7787 881582

Peter Cheney

+44 (0)7774295369

Janet Maxwell

+353 (0)87 948 4412

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