On the occasion of the International Women’s Day we must reflect together on the meaning of this day, facing one of the greatest challenges of our time: the encounter between Christians and Muslims. After the events in Paris and Cologne, we need to urgently face the “great challenge” of terrorism together with young people and school children. Terrorism has entered our everyday life of every, casting people into fear and distrust towards the other. That is how my pupils, both Christian and Muslim, have proved they understand that what unites us is stronger than what divides us: “We, Christians and Muslims, claim that what unites us is strong and palpable. We are sons and brothers in humanity. And Mary, venerated by both of us, is the sign of a friendship that can save the world.”
In the auditorium of the Surveyors’ Institute ‘‘Petrucci’’, in fact, resonated the following question: “Can the cult of the woman par excellence, Mary, unite people who follow Christian and Islamic religions?” The answer is yes. An example: in Lebanon, Christians and Muslims have chosen the day of Annunciation as a national holiday to get together in prayer, silence, and sharing of testimonies. There is a beautiful testimony of a Muslim pupil who has proudly talked about her choice to wear the veil as a sign of belonging to a religion, Islam, which, she said, “has to be studied.”
The Muslim and Christian worlds have always met and will always do so: therefore, such moments of dialogue are very important for the youngest who have the opportunity to know each other, and not just studying about the Arab-Muslim world from books: the school must serve to create these opportunities for interaction. The latter, however, must take place under the sign of respect: no one is “superior” to anyone else. We are human beings and we have to respect each other starting from respecting ourselves, that is, do not do things that can hurt the others.
Through videos and testimonies, the pupils have studied in-depth how Mary (Maryam) is mentioned more frequently in the Koran than in the entire New Testament. She is also the only woman called by name. Muslims call her Sayyida, which means “lady, mistress” and that roughly corresponds to the Christian term “Our Lady”. Christians and Muslims believe that Mary is Jesus’ virgin mother and that she has been chosen by God. The stories of the angel Gabriel’s annunciation contained in the Gospel of Luke (1:31) and in the Quran (3.45) are strikingly similar between them. In the Muslim world, Mary’s cult is deeply felt, to the point that Marian shrines become places of pilgrimage for Muslims, who ask graces and pray the Vergin.
During this year of mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis it is nice to remember that every time a Muslim pronounces the name of God, (s)he adds to it the titles of “very merciful” and “completely merciful”, whereas every sura of the Koran opens with the words “in the name of the forgiving and merciful God”. This is the great message Mary develops when, in the Magnificat, she describes how the mercy of God unfolds on its people, generation after generation, ever since Abraham. On this reality can be built a genuine dialogue, true peace, and a bridge between our religions based on mercy, that is, on helping those who suffer in a concrete way.