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A Deacon's Journey Through Islam View Comments
By Deacon George Dardess

Last May at Nazareth College in Pittsford, New York, Deacon George Dardess discussed the
book Reclaiming Beauty for the Good of the World.

Becoming a Roman Catholic deacon led me into Islam—not by embracing Islam itself, but by embracing it as a sign of the Other whom the deacon has come to serve. The path has been so full of surprises that I can truly say, “God writes straight with crooked lines.”

Yet it’s not only as a deacon that I speak of Islam. I also speak of it as an ordinary American who one day realized that he knew nothing about this “foreign” religion: nothing of its holy book, the Quran, nothing of its teachings, the people who embraced it, their languages and cultures or even the countries where Muslims live. For example, I couldn’t at that time have found Iraq on the map.

The change began in February 1991. I had been watching with horror televised reports of our first Iraq war, “Desert Storm.” As a recently baptized (1983) Catholic Christian, I had absorbed Thomas Merton’s writings on nonviolence; I had been inspired by the U.S. bishops’ 1983 pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace. I also felt deeply that Desert Storm was portrayed unjustly: as a triumphant exercise of American goodness over the darkest evil and a war that had been cleansed of its violence through “surgical strikes” and “smart bombs.”

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Deacon George Dardess, a retired professor, holds a Ph.D. in English literature and an M.A. in theology. He has co-authored three books and written Meeting Islam as a Christian (Paraclete) and Do We Worship the Same God? (St. Anthony Messenger Press). Deacon Dardess is a consultant to the Diocese of Rochester, New York, on interfaith dialogue and on migrant ministry.

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Augustine of Canterbury: In the year 596, some 40 monks set out from Rome to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons in England. Leading the group was Augustine, the prior of their monastery in Rome. Hardly had he and his men reached Gaul (France) when they heard stories of the ferocity of the Anglo-Saxons and of the treacherous waters of the English Channel. Augustine returned to Rome and to the pope who had sent them—St. Gregory the Great (September 3 )—only to be assured by him that their fears were groundless. 
<p>Augustine again set out. This time the group crossed the English Channel and landed in the territory of Kent, ruled by King Ethelbert, a pagan married to a Christian, Bertha. Ethelbert received them kindly, set up a residence for them in Canterbury and within the year, on Pentecost Sunday, 597, was himself baptized. After being consecrated a bishop in France, Augustine returned to Canterbury, where he founded his see. He constructed a church and monastery near where the present cathedral, begun in 1070, now stands. As the faith spread, additional sees were established at London and Rochester. </p><p>Work was sometimes slow and Augustine did not always meet with success. Attempts to reconcile the Anglo-Saxon Christians with the original Briton Christians (who had been driven into western England by Anglo-Saxon invaders) ended in dismal failure. Augustine failed to convince the Britons to give up certain Celtic customs at variance with Rome and to forget their bitterness, helping him evangelize their Anglo-Saxon conquerors </p><p>Laboring patiently, Augustine wisely heeded the missionary principles—quite enlightened for the times—suggested by Pope Gregory the Great: purify rather than destroy pagan temples and customs; let pagan rites and festivals be transformed into Christian feasts; retain local customs as far as possible. The limited success Augustine achieved in England before his death in 605, a short eight years after he arrived in England, would eventually bear fruit long after in the conversion of England. Augustine of Canterbury can truly be called the “Apostle of England.”</p> American Catholic Blog A hero isn’t someone born with unconquerable strength and selflessness. Heroes are not formed in a cataclysmic instant. Heroism is developed over time, one decision after another, moment by moment, formed by a deliberate, chosen, and habitual response to life.

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