Faith communities must be given a stake and role in society and be seen as part of public life. That was the message from the Austrian Ambassador to the UK at a reception to mark the 70th anniversary of the Council of Christians and Jews and the 100th anniversary of Austria’s Islam Act.
In welcoming guests to his Residence
in Belgrave Square, His Excellency Emil Brix said: “Austria is behind every initiative for dialogue. We have a very positive experience of working with religion and religious communities can be part of public life. It has worked for Christians and Jews and now for Islam as well.”
He thanked the CCJ for promoting dialogue and understanding between Christians and Jews and promised to support its work as much as possible.
CCJ CEO, Revd David Gifford, sent greetings from CCJ Vice President, Lord Harries of Pentregarth,
who said that the need for the CCJ continues to educate into the reality rather than stereotype and the task of education needs to be done afresh in every generation.
CCJ Vice President Dr Lionel Kopelowitz looked back on the history of Christian-Jewish relations, outlining some of the infamous events that lead to a tremendous breech between the two faiths and almost 1900 years of distrust and hatred. He said:
“The CCJ helps Jews and Christians speak and work more closely together. This is the great challenge we have to face. Everyone from schoolchildren upwards must be part of the dialogue."
He added: “Israel-Palestine must not define our relationship on those terms, but the two great faiths to which we adhere and this can only be achieved if we speak out.”
Guest speaker, Dana Charkasi, from Vienna University
presented a picture of interreligious dialogue and interfaith initiatives in Austria which have strengthened links with the Arab world.
She explained the background to the establishment of the Islam Act in 1912 in what is a predominantly Catholic country. This created unique conditions for integrating people of Muslim faith in society that are unparalleled in the rest of Europe, and the notion of "a European Islam".
Today, 6.2% of the population is Muslim, a significantly higher percentage than the rest of the EU. Ms Charkasi added she and her team at the university are achieving good outcomes from the partnerships and various initiatives for home-grown Islamic education.
Dr Markus Himmelbauer talked about the work of his organisation, Coordinating Committee for Christian-Jewish Cooperation
, which, like the CCJ, encourages dialogue between the two faiths in Austria. Focussing on religious issues and remembering the Church’s roots in Judaism, he cited examples in art, where the Star of Bethlehem is portrayed by a Star of David and a concert performed by Christians and Jews in a Benedictine Monastery became “Music Between Friends”.
“What we can learn is that we are brothers and sisters,” he said, adding that this could also be a model for other countries.
To mark the occasion, the Ambassador presented the CCJ with a special book, Austria – Past, Present, Future.
CCJ Vice Chairman, Maurice Ostro, thanked him for his hospitality and good wishes and presented him with a book about The City of London