(from Rabat) – Finding Al Mowafaqa Ecumenical Institute of Theology in Avenue de Chellah is not an easy task. It’s hidden beneath the shadow of a hotel, accessible through a small, unremarkable black gate. The only way to find it is not to rely on “Google maps” nor on people’s directions, but to ask small groups of smiling, Christian students arriving from adjacent streets. The Institute is a pilot project. A true gem of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue on African soil coordinated by Father Jean Koulagna, Lutheran Pastor from Cameroon. The Institute is attended by some forty students divided in two classes for the Theological licence along with a special course on “dialogue between cultures and religions”, which issues a Certificate at the end of a 6-month course (from January 21 to May 31, with lessons every day, from Monday to Friday). They will be there to welcome Pope Francis in Rabat and will be present on March 30 on the occasion of the meeting of the Holy Father at the Mohammed IV Institute for the formation of Imams. The Papal visit continues Sunday 31st with a meeting with priests and consecrated men and women from Morocco in St. Peter’s Cathedral, followed by the Holy Mass celebrated at the Moulay Abdellah sports stadium.
Burundi, Ethiopia, Niger, Senegal, Chad, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo. The courses are mostly attended by students of French-speaking Churches and of the sub-Saharan African region. Al Mowafaqa (that in Arabic means “agreement”) is thus presented as an international university (with over 20 nationalities present), ecumenical (supported also financially by Catholics and Protestants) and in dialogue with Islam and Moroccan culture. It’s a space for the advancement of encounter, not a theological faculty like many others but one of a kind. Another strength of the Institute is the surrounding Muslim context since “in minority situations Christians are called by need to bear witness together” and the formation proposed in an academic environment can facilitate experiencing Muslim life in full. Here dialogue is taught in classrooms and is put into practice in everyday life, with programs of visits and meetings at local level. Moreover, Morocco is at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and the Arab world, and as such it faces problems characterising the contemporary world also at cultural level: North/South relations, (rich and poor Countries; migratory flows); interreligious coexistence; changing societies.
The Institute seeks to offer the cultural tools to face the challenges of our present times, that are ever more complex and interconnected. The Course that provides a Certification in interreligious dialogue envisages, for example, lessons in methodology of Islamic studies; basic Arabic; history and anthropology of Islam; history of Muslim-Christian dialogue; the sources of Islam and contemporary Judaism. The presence of European students in the Institute is a sign that “Islam today is present all over the world, even in Europe” – the Institute’s Director pointed out. “Yet Europeans view this reality as a new phenomenon, often with fear. The appropriate tools are lacking and answers are being sought.” According to the Director, there are several reasons underlying the phenomenon of Islamophobia registered (at unfortunately growing levels) in the Western world. “Europe – he said – views Islam in the global framework of immigration. Thus Islam is somewhat confused with the migratory movement of people arriving on European shores. In the suitcases carrying dreams of a better future there is also Islam.” Another factor is radicalism, the Salafi current that has initiated – and continues sparking off – acts of violence and attacks. “People often make the mistake of equalling Islam with violence, which is scary.”
“An interesting Pope that has shaken up the Catholic Church and broken many taboos. Most of all, a Pope of dialogue that has always sought to open new doors”, said the Lutheran Director of the Al Mowafaqa Institute referring to Pope Francis. His greatest dream was to welcome him inside the Institute. He followed him with interest in his latest trip in Abu Dhabi that was concluded with the signing of the Document on human fraternity. “My hope for this visit – said Pastor Koulagna – is that dialogue may hasten its pace and make concrete steps. In fact I hope that this visit will smooth the way for mutual encounter and that Muslims and Christians will draw closer to one another with increased mutual trust: Muslims should not suspect Christians of proselytising and Christians must no longer fear that Muslims could prevent them from living out their faith. Greater trust. An atmosphere of fraternity.”