Retired priest will give talk on Islam's teachings


January 15, 2002|By Nancy Gallant | Nancy Gallant,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

DESPITE ALL THE discussion of Islamic culture during the past several months, many Americans still find that they don't really know just what the religion teaches and what it means to its followers and to the world.

A retired Catholic priest from Crofton wants to do something about that.

On Thursday night, the Rev. Paul Surlis, a theologian who has traveled to the Middle East in his quest to learn about the world's religions, will explain the five Pillars of Islam and discuss how Islamic culture has affected history. The talk will be held at the Parish Center of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Crofton.

"This is a time for religious pluralism," Surlis says. "We don't have to go to India to find Hindus or China to find Buddhists or Arabia to find Muslims. They are here. We have to dialogue respectfully with each other."

He adds that each of the world's great religions provides an insight into "the divine mystery" and that, by sharing, we all become richer.

A native of Ireland, Surlis received his doctorate in theology and was ordained a Catholic priest there before first coming to America in 1963. He served as a priest in Texas for five years, working with a cousin, who was a bishop. During that time he also traveled to Rome and participated in some of the meetings of the Second Vatican Council, which led to sweeping changes within the Roman Catholic Church.

One important document arising from the council expressed appreciation for the great religious traditions other than Christianity. Shortly after this document was released, Surlis joined a group of priests traveling to Jerusalem. When they arrived in the Holy City, he says, a leader from one of the city's major mosques invited them to visit as a gesture of respect for the growing openness between the two religions.

Surlis says that Islam, like every other great religion, at its best serves as a tool for liberating people. The establishment of Islam served as a major force in transforming the Arabic world from a group of warring tribes into a socially caring community that developed a vibrant, powerful culture, he says.

Surlis says Islam, like every other religion, has its fanatics who "hijack their faith" and use it as a tool for evil. But he says that it is important for us to understand what the faith truly is about, rather than to judge it by how some people misuse it.

He points out that most adherents of Islam, like most Christians, Jews or Buddhists, seek to make the best of their faith. By learning more about each other, Surlis hopes people can not only understand each other, but also develop a better understanding of their own faith.

Surlis, who now lives in Crofton, was a professor of Catholic social ethics and liberation theology at St. John's University in New York from 1975 to 2000. He says he was involved in research related to issues of social justice.

Surlis' program at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church will be from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Information: 410-721-5770.

Fellowship and German food

Because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, this month's meeting of the Christian German American Women's Club has been rescheduled for Jan. 28. The meeting will begin at noon in the social hall of First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Odenton.

Gwendolin Daniels will address the group on the topic "After-Christmas Thoughts." After a period of praise and reflection, the group will enjoy a German lunch, music and fellowship.

All women interested in German culture and language are welcome. Information: Irene Kucholik, 301-621-7862, or Karin Jackson, 301-855-6877.

Retirees luncheon

Crofton Area Retired Persons will hold its monthly luncheon meeting at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at Seton Parish Center Hall. Bingo will follow the short meeting.

Membership in this organization is open to area retirees age 55 and older. Luncheon meetings are held the third Wednesday of each month from September to May. Annual dues are $10, and luncheon fees are $8.

Information: club President Patrick Rubilotta, 410-721-2143.

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