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Religion and Society

Oasis is born, a subject, an instrument

Years ago in a meeting with some Catholic bishops from Islamic countries, the necessity of having adequate cultural tools to nourish Christians in those lands was revealed. Writings by thinkers such as Guardini or De Lubac, Guitton or Lewis, are for the most part not available in Arabic and access to them remains difficult. There is always English or French, often used by those with at least a minimum level of education, but these occidental languages are difficult to use for the necessary process of enculturation in the faith. Language is not a mere instrument for understanding, but an irreplaceable medium of comparison and an indispensable factor for personalization and communion without which it is difficult to give the faith substance and, above all else, to give body to a Church.

 

 

May 6th 2001, the Holy Father, during his encounter with the Muslim community in the courtyard of the Great Ommayyad Mosque in Damascus, affirmed that «places of prayer are dear to both Christians and Muslims as an oasis in which one meets with the Merciful God along the walk towards eternal life and with one's brothers and sisters in the bond of religion». The image of the Oasis as a place of rest, respite and peace, which allows us to meet with God and our brothers, is offered to us as a precise direction for work.

 

From these two circumstances the idea of creating a tool was slowly born: the review Oasis.

 

The original intent was to meet the cultural thirst of Christians living in Muslim countries, and this intent has gone on to develop further.

 

A preliminary enlargement of our objectives was what might be called the quantitative-geographical one. We thought about also using the Urdu language in order to reach people in Pakistan. Without renouncing recourse to other languages in the future (Indonesian, for example), this seemed to be a first, realistic compromise between an ideal perspective of diffusion and the current possibilities.

 

When the editing technicians went to work, we were progressively led towards a further enlargement of our horizons. Thinking of our audience, we saw that it would be useful to create four different bilingual versions, respectively Italian-Arabic, French-Arabic, English-Arabic and English-Urdu. This led us to make the initial objective qualitatively more precise. We discovered that Oasis should aim to favour an organic theological-cultural exchange between Christians (without excluding members of other religions) in the Anglophone, Francophone and Italian areas of Europe and those in the Middle East, North-Africa, Arabic and Urdu-speaking areas.

 

Oasis, as a group and expressive tool, can in some way favour the birth of a communion group whose protagonists are Christians from the West, the Middle and Far East, and Africa. This will lead us to listen to each other, know each other and understand each other. An important consequence of this will be to help us confront the "Muslim" phenomenon and more generally the phenomenon of the great religions. At the same time, such a tool will educate the baptised living in traditionally Christian countries to meet with Muslims and people of other faiths who, now numerous, live in Europe and the Americas.

 

The objective of Oasis is certainly ambitious and complex. If we do not want to give in to the intellectual temptation to think it sufficient to provide interpretive keys, the review must be the expression of a communitarian group focused on taking the road of common work.

 

This group is fundamentally represented by the Promotional Committee, the Scientific Committee, the Editors of the review, and the Studium Generale Marcianum, agent of the Church of Venice which has assumed the role of directly promoting the project itself.

 

In a nutshell, Oasis would like to be the cultural expression of a network of relations arising within the communio catholica, which knows how to assume the work and responsibilities expected of Christian faithful today with the ever pressing horizon of the relationship between East and West. Its catholic identity recognises ecumenism, theology of religions, inter-religious dialogue and the opening up to all cultures as inalienable and intrinsic dimensions of its own nature.

 

Everyone is aware that from 2000 to today the geopolitical situation in the Middle East and Muslim countries has worsened notably. The gravity of the international crisis, because of terrorism and war, is obvious to everyone. In many countries the situation for the Christian communities has been very trying.

 

We are convinced that the first and final task is to try to know and understand. It becomes more evident each day how complex the historical and ecclesiastical predicament is in which we are living. It cannot be defined exhaustibly by the simple categories of conflict between ethnicities, cultures and religions. Together we need to find other dimensions for understanding the expectation which underlies this new mixing of peoples to which the Author of history seems to be calling humanity. If we may be permitted a bold metaphor, we should speak of the inevitable proposal of a sort of "hybridisation of civilizations" so that the meeting is not transformed inevitably into conflict. Hybridisation in the metaphorical sense of the mixing cultures and spiritual facts which are produced when different civilizations enter into contact. What's more, we have in common that human nature on which the family of peoples is based.

 

Personally we hold that categories such as reciprocity, tolerance and integration -markedly Western- are revealing themselves to be insufficient. Not so much for the values they point to, but for that which they are unable to think and communicate. If considered attentively, they are categories in which one can hide, especially in the West, the temptation to save individual liberty and the organisation of peoples from the urgency of exposing oneself in the first person. Such categories might be useful for signalling the limits of human survival, but not for thinking about the bases of this new planetary interpenetration which needs a new order and world government. In another context, the acute Lewis affirmed that «equality protects life, but it does not nourish it. It is a medicine, not the nutriment». To speak of tolerance, reciprocity and integration, in fact, is no longer sufficient.

 

One category which it seemed necessary to introduce is that of testimony. Testimony immediately puts every man and woman into play, calling them to expose themselves, to pay in person, to not decide beforehand where the encounter and dialogue will stop.

 

But one must know how to translate it into realistic cultural forms and terms, social and political forms which look to the good life of peoples and the good of the Church. These are objectives to pursue without utopian and intellectual flights. We are perfectly conscious of the audacity of the enterprise we have proposed. But we also have much faith in it.

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