View From Rome
13 April 2017
View from Rome
One was dressed in the scarlet robes of a cardinal. The other wore traditional Islamic dress and the turban of an imam. The Archbishop of Westminster and Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra stood beside each other in the English College, Rome, in front of a plaque commemorating former students who had been martyred for the Catholic faith.
The pair were smiling, clearly at ease with one another. Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Shaykh Mogra, along with three other imams, had just returned to the college on the Via di Monserrato after a meeting with Pope Francis. Although it had been arranged some months ago, the sight of these religious leaders warmly greeting each other in friendship was a powerful expression of solidarity just two weeks after the Westminster terrorist attack.
The plaque listing the martyrs of the college was also a timely reminder that the Catholic Church in England and Wales has its own history of being persecuted, vilified and misunderstood as a minority religious community. It’s a memory still fresh in the mind of many Catholics, who can recall how their forbears had to struggle against the perception that they were “papists” loyal to a foreign power. This experience gives Catholics a special understanding of the feeling of being mistrusted that is shared by many British Muslims today: it prompted Cardinal Nichols to take the initiative and invite the imams to Rome. The meeting with the Pope, the cardinal told me afterwards, was about listening to the “voice of authentic Islam” and showed “what the true leadership of Islam aspires to, and is committed to”.
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