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Inter-religious Dialogue “a path to universal brotherhood”: Archbishop in Algeria

Archbishop Paul Desfarges of Algiers, Algeria.

The Archbishop of Algiers in Algeria, Paul Desfarges, who was recently appointed to the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue (PCID) has, in an interview with ACI Africa, underscored the value of interreligious dialogue describing it as “a path to universal brotherhood.”

“Inter-religious dialogue is a path to universal brotherhood. It is the antidote to the political instrumentalization of religion. It protects against the temptations of identity-based withdrawal or identity-based nationalism of a religious nature,” the Archbishop Desfarges told ACI Africa Saturday, July 18.

He added, “We live interreligious dialogue first of all as an encounter of humanity, a human encounter between believers.”

Referencing the former Prefect of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran, the member of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) further said, “Religion is not the problem but the solution. Christians and Muslims can draw on their respective faiths to work together for peace.”

“It is within this dialogue of life that all other forms of dialogue can take place,” the French-born Prelate said.

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He acknowledged the challenges involved in daily “dialogue” saying, “Witnessing the dialogue of life is not always easy.”

“It becomes a cross when disciples, children of the country, are rejected because of their faith by those they love most,” the Archbishop of Algiers explained and added, “This is why inter-religious dialogue begins first of all in prayer, thanksgiving, intercession. It also deepens in prayer, when it becomes combat: combat against lies, against hatred and imploring for forgiveness.”

On July 7, Archbishop Desfarges was appointed as a member of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue alongside Dieudonné Cardinal Nzapalainga of the Central African Republic (CAR) and Bishop Denis Chidi Isizoh, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Onitsha, Nigeria.

The Prelate who serves in the predominantly Muslim nation of Algeria has been at the helm of the Regional Episcopal Conference of North Africa (CERNA) since 2015. In 2018, he led other members of CERNA to propose that interreligious dialogue be used as a way of promoting equity in the Maghreb countries. 

He told ACI Africa during the July 18 interview, “Our Churches are at the table of the people who are predominantly Muslim. Our witness seeks to be lived first of all in the form of service and we would like to live it in the form of the washing of feet.”

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Noting that Christians have previously been rejected by their families because of their faith, the 76-year-old Prelate rejoiced that the persecution is becoming “rare because the new disciples live their faith discreetly and with respect for Islam. And a path of acceptance is gradually being made in Algeria.”

To strengthen inter-religious dialogue, the Archbishop proposes that “our Churches make themselves servants of the Kingdom which goes far beyond the frontiers of the visible Church because the frontiers of the Kingdom are none other than those of Charity.”

“The Church is not an enterprise that seeks to expand, but it is a witness and servant of what God is doing in humanity. The witness is first of all one who recognizes in the other the work of the Spirit. He offers himself to collaborate in it,” Archbishop Desfarges said.