Some “firsts” take place amid crowds and television cameras, others happen more quietly. The Grand Mosque of Paris chose the low-key approach when it received Cardinal André Vingt-Trois on Wednesday evening for an iftar dinner. It was the first that a Roman Catholic archbishop of the French capital had visited its leading mosque for the traditional meal breaking the Ramadan fast. After a short prayer by an imam and introductory remarks, they sat down to an North African-style dinner of spicy chorba (soup), chicken and olives and dessert of honey pastries and mint tea.
France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim minority, about five million, and interfaith contacts often depend on the personalities involved, especially at the local level. Pope Benedict will meet a delegation of French Muslims — some national leaders such as the cardinal’s host, Paris Grand Mosque Rector Dalil Boubakeur, and some local leaders active in Christian-Muslim dialogue — when he visits Paris next week.
Boubakeur thanked Vingt-Trois for the support the Church had given its “immigrant brothers” over the years, especially help to integrate young Muslims. In one such project, the Catholic Institute of Paris offers courses on French politics, law and secularism for future imams studying Islamic theology at the Grand Mosque.
“It’s an honour for me, who has frequently walked past the walls of the Grand Mosque of Paris, the most important in France, to have an occasion to enter and share an important moment in the life of your community,” said the cardinal, a Parisian who grew up in the city’s fifth arrondissement where the mosque is located.
“Even if our paths to receive revelation and respond to the call of God are different, we are invited to have a common attitude of faith,” he said. “In many regions of France, the witness manifested by the faith of Muslims is something that helps Christians ask themselves about their faith and the way they live it.”