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University professor appointed to pontifical commission by Pope Francis

| Tuesday, March 3, 2020

In 2017, theology professor Gabriel Reynolds was one of 15 academics who was invited to work with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) in preparation for Pope Francis’s historic visit to Cairo, Egypt.

Now, three years later, Reynolds has been officially invited by Francis and head of the PCID, Cardinal Miguel Ayuso, to serve as consultor of the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims.

Reynolds said the invitation to head a committee within the PCID came out the blue and he responded to his appointment with a sense of humility.

“There are many other more distinguished and qualified theologians whom they could have chosen,” he said with a smile. 

Reynolds has taught at Notre Dame since 2003, and he specializes in the study of Islam, especially its scripture the Qur’an.

In addition to earning his PhD at Yale University, Reynolds has spent a number of years studying Islam in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. He said there are two important factors to consider when studying a religion.

“One is to have a critical or historical understanding of the religion … but the other important point is understanding the religion as the believers themselves understand it,” he said.

Assistant professor of theology Mun’im Sirry spoke highly of his colleague’s qualifications for the position.

“Professor Reynolds is a well-respected scholar among Western academia whose works on the Qur’an have been much read in the Muslim world,” Sirry said in an email.

The PCID was instituted by Pope Paul VI in 1964 to promote the study of other religions and interreligious dialogue with the goals of understanding, respect and collaboration.

Reynolds explained that the PCID works to foster relationships between the Catholic Church and non-Christian religions, except for Judaism. The Church’s relations with Judaism and other Christian denominations have their own separate offices within the Vatican.

The PCID is composed of an executive board made up roughly 30 members who are cardinals and bishops from around the world and 50 advisors called “consultors” who are experts in religious studies. The consultors advise the members through their research and knowledge in order to publish material on interreligious dialogue and organize meetings with leaders of other religions.

Reynolds will serve on the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims, which is a special commission of its own kind within the PCID, for five years. Composed of an executive board and eight consultors, the group works to engage study and dialogue between Christians and Muslims. 

Reynolds said the Commission comprised of Catholic scholars meets at least once a year to advise the magisterium or the Pope and bishops to advise them on Muslim-Christian relations. The Commission will also meet with various Muslim institutions to engage in and improve dialogue. Reynolds said it is important to understand there is no centralized institution which represents Islam.

“There are many different institutions from Morocco to Indonesia that are in dialogue with the Vatican,” he said.

Reynolds explained that understanding the work of the PCID and the Commission requires two important pieces of background information.

“One is just appreciating the Catholic Church’s commitment generally to advancing relationships between religions,” he said. “There’s a particular engagement in putting enmity aside and reaching out on points of common conviction. The other point is just the particular work of Pope Francis, who has a special concern with dialogue with Muslims.”

When Pope Francis met with religious leaders including The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, in Abu Dhabi of in February 2019, Reynolds said the two “advanced the notion of human fraternity.”

“That’s ultimately the point of most dialogue,” he said. “Getting to know, understand and love the other. Pope Francis challenges us to think no longer of the ‘other,’ per se, but as common members of the human family.” 

Theology professor John Cavadini of Notre Dame’s theology department also praised the selection of Reynolds for the position.

“As leader of the theology department’s program in World Religions and World (WRWC) Gabriel [Reynolds] is well positioned to represent our department and Notre Dame in the Holy See’s dialogue with Islam,” Cavadini said in an email. 

Reynolds emphasized the importance of interfaith dialogue, especially within the context of Catholicism.

“The Catholic Church teaches that Muslims and Christians believe in the same God … so it’s a conversation between believers, not just academics,” Reynolds said. 

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About Isabella Volmert

Isabella "Issy" Volmert is a senior majoring in English and minoring in theology and journalism, ethics and democracy at the University of Notre Dame. She currently serves The Observer as assistant managing editor. Follow her @ivolmertnews for niche JED Twitter content.

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