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Archbishop's Opening Remarks

Monday 7th April 2003

The Second Building Bridges Seminar, Doha, Qatar

Your Highness, eminent guests and friends:

My first duty, which I discharge with the most sincere pleasure, is to thank His Highness the Amir of Qatar for welcoming us to his country and doing so much to facilitate this meeting. From earlier days when my predecessor was welcomed here, His Highness has shown exemplary commitment to this dialogue and has pursued it with an energy and vision characteristic of all he has done as ruler of this small but rapidly evolving country. He has shown precisely the kind of enthusiasm for honest exchange and deepened understanding which meetings such as this are designed to assist, and we are all profoundly grateful. It is a kind of openness that is also making possible significant gestures towards the Christian community here and for that too let me express my gratitude.

I have mentioned my predecessor, and I cannot let the opportunity go past of paying tribute to the courage and imagination with which he addressed these issues of mutual understanding across the frontiers of our communities of faith. I hope to continue such work, conscious all the time of doing no more than building on foundations which he laid through much labour, much thought and prayer, and much tireless fostering of relationships in many lands.

For many, a real dialogue about what we specifically believe and the thoughts we have about our faith ought to take second place to discussions concerning the practical tasks we can share, whatever our faith – and this is thought to be especially true at a time of tension. But this dialogue has been conceived rather differently. Christians are Christians and Muslims are Muslims because they care about truth, and because they believe that truth alone gives life. About the nature of that absolute and life-giving truth, Christians and Muslims are not fully in agreement. Yet they are able to find words in which to explain and explore that disagreement because they also share histories and practices that make parts of their systems of belief mutually recognisable – a story reaching back to God's creation of the world and God's call to Abraham; a practice of reading and absorbing scriptures and of shaping a life in response to the Word God speaks to creation.

We are here to discover more about how each community believes it must listen to God, conscious of how very differently we identify and speak of God's revelation. It is a significant meeting not primarily because it coincides with a time of such conflict and anxiety but because it highlights again a deeper and abiding need – a need which the run-up to this present conflict has made all the more urgent. Listening to God and listening to one another as nations, cultures and faiths have not always had the priority they so desperately need. So this space for reflection is all the more important; it is both a symbol and an example of this kind of engagement.

In this dialogue, we are not seeking an empty formula of convergence or trying to deny our otherness; indeed as we reflect on the holy texts we read, we shall be seeking to make better sense of how we relate to the other, the stranger with whom we can still speak in trust and love. As we do this – experience shows us – we learn more of the depths of what nourishes us in our own faith; and we hope to go from this dialogue better equipped to witness in a deeply troubled world, to witness to what faith and humble obedience to God and patient attention to each other might have to offer to struggling and suffering nations throughout the globe.

© Rowan Williams 2003

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