|RMG – Salesian Presence among the Muslims: a new Road Map|
(ANS – Rome) – Among those attending the Study Days on Salesian Presence among Muslims was Fr Michael Karikunnel, an Indian Salesian who has been a missionary in Africa for about 30 years. At present he is based in Nigeria, scene of recent bloody attacks on the Christian community including the one yesterday at Kogi which cost the lives of 16 people. Fr Karikunnel is hoping he can soon open a Vocational School for poor and unemployed young people in Lagos.
What do you think is the best way to dialogue with Muslim believers?
I think we have to change our attitudes to religions, the faith, and to people. We must have a complete openness about seeking the truth and managing to find it! It’s all about encouraging and supporting democratic principles and the rules set up by law, safeguarding interior peace and religious tolerance. It’s essential to understand that dialogue is the only way for everyone to live happily as children of God in the brief stretch of time we have been given on this earth. We are part of the great family of God. Searching for God is the same for Muslims and Christians. We are on the same journey: everyone is seeking truth and this is what unites us.
Education has a fundamental role. If people are guided, educated, they become able to think in a different way, to see things which are in their own interests. This makes dialogue much easier.
What are the main problems you have to face? What gives you greatest satisfaction?
Closed minds are the hardest nuts to crack. We have to be fairly honest about accepting reality. Because of this we have to train new generations to be strongly patriotic, to develop positive attitudes, to have great faith in themselves. The number of poor and unemployed young people is alarming. They can see no light ahead and this leads them into frustration, which can trigger violence.
On the positive side, there are many young people, both Muslim and Christian, whom we are educating, who are doing a lot of good, and they are very happy with this. When I was a headteacher I had several staff of Islamic faith and they were completely involved in activities, respecting discipline and concentrating on achieving our common objectives.
What can the International Community and Christians in western countries do for you?
Well, above all I believe that prayer is really very important, because God can bring peace to birth in people’s hearts. After this I believe that they must work to reinforce democratic principles and encourage institutions to give equal opportunities to all. It is also necessary to use every means of supporting academic and vocational education of children and young people, especially the poor, because the educational system is often in a sorry state and the future of young people is really uncertain, dark. This is why we have to work to reorganise it. Finally, it is important to support the growth of local leaders, teaching them about the dynamics of a pluralistic society where people from different faiths, cultures and ethnic groups can live together.