Photo: a mosque and a church, side-by-side, in Beirut, Lebanon
...Born, raised and ordained to the priesthood in Alaska, Father Walsh will leave his home state to work for at least three years with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, where his primary task will be to facilitate greater understanding between Catholics and Muslims across the country...
Those dialogues will generally include bishops, academic experts and prominent Muslim leaders. The aim of the gatherings is to foster mutual understanding and find areas where greater unity and cooperation are possible.
“It is important for us to be in dialogue,” Father Walsh explained in an interview with the Anchor. “We’ve seen what happens when those prejudices and antagonisms are allowed to run unchecked.”
For example, Father Walsh pointed to the mischaracterization of Islam that occurs when memories of the September 11, 2001 attacks are the primary perception that people have of the religion.
“Dialogue is especially important because of how skittish people are today,” Father Walsh said. “Most people, you talk to them about Islam and they are going to mention 9/11 somewhere within the first three minutes of the conversation because that is the image in their mind. And believe me, it is the image in the Muslim’s mind too. They live with that every day.”
...Interreligious work is very much dependent on building human relationships, Father Walsh explained.
“It is not just comparative religion,” he said. “Religion is never lived in a vacuum. We engage and live in the community in which we are a part.”
...On the international front, Father Walsh noted that Pope Benedict XVI has provided strong leadership in reaching out to the Islamic world and inviting them to dialogue.
Father Walsh pointed to the Common Word Project in which 138 Muslim scholars agreed to an interfaith dialogue with Christians on the topic of love of God and love of neighbor...