[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Reconciliation is the theme of the latest edition of Anglican World, which contains an in-depth interview with Canon Sarah Snyder, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s new advisor for reconciliation. The quarterly magazine of the Anglican Communion also has interviews with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Lahore and the Anglican Bishop of Sialkot, two of the pairs of 19 bishops sent out for mission by Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby last month. It also takes a look at Arkan (corners), a cultural centre located in St Mark’s Anglican / Episcopal Pro-Cathedral in Alexandria, Egypt’s second city, which is helping to “draw together young people of different faiths and enable them to build bridges through the creative arts.”
“I see reconciliation as being the hands and feet of God to glorify him by modelling love of Him to our neighbours,” Canon Snyder told Anglican World. She explained the her first taste of poverty and inequality was while she was growing up in Bermuda where her father worked as a lawyer and was also a churchwarden. As a child, she joined her parents in giving out food parcels to those without enough to eat. “That early experience instilled a passion for justice and reconciliation that has never left me,” she said.
Her first experience of mediation came in 1989 when she and her husband John took a sabbatical to cross the Sahara in an old Land Rover. Anglican World takes up the story: “After an unnerving experience crossing the Algerian border, when they ended up drinking mint tea with the armed guards who had been demanding a bribe, they lived with the Tuareg tribes for more than a year.
“They produced a film for European schools, highlighting the richness of African culture and hospitality of nomadic life. They also helped mediate over the issue of forced settlement for the Tuareg nomads, helping others recognise their inter-dependence with the desert environment.
“Sarah said, ‘That was my first exposure to mediation and to Islam. We became deep friends with our Tuareg hosts, and witnessed Islam and the Muslim way of life from the inside. I left with a huge respect for Muslims – their prayer life and dedication to trying to live every aspect of their life for God has never left me.’”
Speaking about the Arkan centre, its founder and director, Nader Wanis, told Anglican World of the scepticism that exists before the centre opened five years ago, with people telling him that it would never work. “A church opening its doors to Muslims and Christians to come together does not happen here,” he said. “We are dealing with the grass roots poor areas and this has never happened before.
“All the dialogue between Christians and Muslims happened between the elite in their offices, never in the streets, it was always between leaders in offices and at conferences. But we are in the streets of the city – this is where the art and creativity happens.
“They told us we would be killed the second day we opened, if Muslims came inside the church. They said we would be burned or killed or shot. Now we have been running over five years and we are the only church in the country that doesn’t search Muslims when they come to the door – if you go to any other church you will be searched by the police.”
The theme is continued in the interviews with the two bishops from Pakistan, where reconciliation between Christians and the majority Muslim population is essential.
“In the remote areas, where there is more or less no education, people live with a very ghetto mentality,” Archbishop Sebastian Shaw, the Roman Catholic bishop of Lahore, said. “In that area, Christians who go to school are discriminated against and persecuted – for example, they cannot drink water from the same glass (as muslims).
“And there is a big problem with hate material in text books. In some books, minority students are considered lower . . . like a lesser human being . . . they are described as ‘infidels’. We are talking to the government about this again and again.
“So if there are three Christian students in a class of 30, they will read in the text book that they are infidels. If they are reading this in their text books, how can we have a harmonious society? The solution is interfaith dialogue. We try to make imams and Islamic scholars see what needs to be changed.
Bishop Alwin Samuel, the Anglican Bishop of Sialkot, added: “The imams and the scholars are receptive but reconciliation is an ongoing process. You cannot achieve your targets in six months or a year.
“Reconciliation is required in Pakistan on all levels – even among Christian denominations as well as between people of different faiths and creeds.”
In his editor, the secretary general of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, explained that Anglican churches “are dealing with extraordinary challenges across the world today.”
He continued: “People in more than half the provinces of the Anglican Communion are enduring conflict or recovering from recent conflict or facing persecution and so the need for peace and reconciliation is inevitably at the heart of what we do.”
He said that at Christmas, “we are reminded that Jesus Christ comes to us as the Prince of Peace – a sign of the hope of reconciliation with our Father God.” And he said that in the new edition of Anglican World “There are so many shining examples of how the Church is working towards unity from assisting in peace talks in South Sudan to bringing Muslims and Christians together in the Middle East.”
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