Not far from where Our Lady Queen of Angels recently broke ground for new buildings for their growing parish, another kind of building was going on inside, the building of relationships.
About 80 people came to view “Out of Cordoba,” a documentary film about Jews, Muslims, and Christians struggling for coexistence, and a plea for greater interfaith understanding. The film explores the questions: “Is there a clash of civilizations between the West and the Islamic World?,” “Are Jews and Muslims eternal enemies, incapable of peaceful coexistence?” and “Does religious faith lead inevitably to hatred, fear and violence?”
Dr Victoria Dendinger, director of adult faith formation at Our Lady Queen of Angels, welcomed the attendees, and explained that the film had been shown the previous night at a local mosque and would be viewed the following day at an Episcopal Church in Long Beach.
“I’m excited that we’re able to have this evening; we invited local churches, mosques and synagogues,” Dr. Dendinger said. ‘Our goal is to learn from one another, to build friendships, to clear up understanding between the different faiths. We cannot be neighbors and friends without understanding each other. Education helps to shed our prejudices.”
She then introduced Jacob Bender, the film’s director, who explained the catalyst for his film.
“I began the film project as a result of the 9/11 attacks on my hometown,” Jacob said. “I was walking in Central Park with my wife and young daughter when something caught my eye in the sky above us. It was an airplane. It was Sept. 11, 2001.”
An American Jew, professor at Notre Dame and peace activist, Jacob wanted to find a way to encourage dialogue and understanding among the religions.
“We are all equally created in the image of God, we need to find a path to reconciliation, and we can’t hide our head in the sand,” Jacob explained. “We need to find a way to see God’s image in our Muslim brothers and sisters. Either we learn to live together or we will die together.”
Jacob began searching for answers to the religious struggles by looking at a time when Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in peace in the city of Cordoba in medieval Spain. By showing viewers a time of mutual respect and understanding in the past, Jacob presented lessons that apply to the present and the future.
“There’s was a culture of tolerance and shared cultures,” Jacob said. “There was wondrous sharing that took place and wonderful relationships which can help us today.”
Making the film took Jacob to Spain, Morocco, France, Egypt, Palestine and Israel.
“I connected with Muslims, Jews and Christians committed to utilizing their religious traditions as sources of tolerance, democracy and human rights. Religions can be as source of tolerance, justice, and peace,” he said. “The film took nine years to complete but God is great and it eventually got finished. This couldn’t have been done without the support I received from Muslims and Christians around the world. I hope it contributes to a greater degree of understanding.”
This was far from the first interfaith endeavor at Our Lady Queen of Angels. Several years ago Dr. Dendinger read about Maria Khani, head of the Women’s Council at the Islamic Institute of Orange County, who invited people to come to an event to learn more about Islam.
“I’ve always been interested in other religions and understanding them,” Dr. Dendinger said. “Also, I was concerned at the increase in anti-Muslim sentiment, and thought that developing friendships was a contribution our parish could make.”
She invited Khani to come to OLQA and share about Mary in the Koran. Maria later invited Dr. Dendinger to give a talk at the Islamic Institute about Catholicism.
“It’s a 2000-year-old religion, so to do so in an hour was a bit daunting, but I did it,” she said. “Since then, we meet twice a year to discuss topics of common interest, such as prayer and saints. At the last lunch we had about 50 women, and the interchanges have been very well received.”
Dr. Dendinger was excited to share about the possibility of an upcoming Muslim/Catholic women’s retreat, which will be an opportunity for shared prayer and discussion. She is also working on plans to increase connections between the Catholic and Jewish communities by arranging group meetings to discuss similarities and differences.
“There is so much we can learn from each other and ways to build relationships,” Dr. Dendinger said. “Let’s reach out with friendship, rather than fear.”
For more information, go to www.olqa.org
Cindy can be reached at [email protected]