Bishops seeking to revive Catholicism are worried by Islam

Pope Benedict XVI

Bechara Boutros Rai, the Beirut-based head of the Maronite Church in communion with the Vatican, said there were also some secret conversions by Muslims to Christianity in Lebanon.

Evangelisation is practised in the Arab countries in an indirect way, he said, through a wide network of Christian schools, hospitals and broadcast media that spread the Church's message without explicitly preaching it.

But several bishops, especially from countries where tensions between Christians and Muslims seem to be worst, saw the meeting of the two faiths as an opportunity for dialogue rather than a reason to bemoan their fate.

Despite the impression often given by the world media, I want to stress that Christians in Nigeria do not see themselves as being under any massive persecution by Muslims, Abuja Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan told the synod.

We need to know our Muslim neighbours and keep an open mind to those who are friendly, and they are in the majority, he said. We have to work together to make sure that the fanatics do not dictate the agenda of our mutual relations.

The Islam debate at the conference got off to a rocky start when Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Vatican Council for Justice and Peace, screened a video suggesting that Europe was quickly being overrun by Muslims.

Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois from France, home to Europe's largest Muslim minority, panned the film as propaganda and said the New Evangelisation should not become a Crusade.

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