Abba Seraphim was among the guests who attended the opening of the new Barnabas Fund library at Pewsey, Wiltshire, on 12 September. The library is housed in a purpose-built, state of the art building designed by the distinguished classical architect, Quinlan Terry, who was among those present. The library is a specialist collection on Islam and Christian-Islamic relations and contains some 50,000 volumes as well as periodicals and electronic resources. Housed on three floors, it includes open shelf reference books, a delightful Reading Room as well as reserve stacks, with a capacity for 10,000 volumes. The Barnabas Fund is also planning to extend its residential capacity to facilitate research conferences and extended research by scholars and specialists.
Following an introductory speech, detailing the scope of the library, by Father Patrick Sookhdeo, the Fund’s International Director, and prayers & scriptural readings marking the library’s inauguration, the guests were entertained to a delightful lunch. After this Father Patrick briefed them on current priorities of the Fund, whilst Caroline Kershaw and Mark Green spoke specifically about the projects undertaken by the Fund to support Christian communities around the world.
Abba Seraphim, a noted bibliophile, spoke enthusiastically of the great service the Fund would now be able to offer to scholars of Islamic-Christian relations. “For years the Barnabas Fund has offered support and practical comfort to beleaguered Christian communities by reminding Christians in the West of the fact that being a Christian is often a dangerous conviction, requiring profound commitment and bravery. This practical support for the neglected and persecuted, done out of deep fraternal love and a desire to follow the Lord’s command to support our weaker brethren, has now expanded to meet the intellectual and philosophical challenges of the dialogue between faiths. The Barnabas Fund has always been rooted in a profound understanding of Islam and to engage Muslims with a sound appreciation of the tenets of their faith, leading to improved relations with Christians and mutual respect.”
Asked to comment on the proposal by Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Church in Gainsville, Florida, to stage a Koran burning to mark the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre, Abba Seraphim observed,
“This is not Christian behaviour and it is an offence to Christians because Pope Shenouda has taught us that remarks which offend the religious sensibilities of others are against Christ’s teachings. Whilst there are legitimate issues we might wish to raise with non-Christians we have to respect the religious beliefs of other people, even if we do not share them. The basis for any meaningful dialogue between faiths must be mutual respect. Nothing can be achieved by insults and this is a deliberate and calculated provocation, intended to offend. How can we reasonably express concerns about the treatment of Christians by Islamic extremists and expect the goodwill and support of Muslims in addressing our concerns, if we condone extremist behaviour among Christians. It it quite apparent that Pastor Jones speaks for himself or at the most a tiny extremist minority. He does not enjoy the support of any mainstream Christian community and I trust that fair-minded Muslims will see that he is a publicity-seeking pariah whose actions most Christians and decent people utterly deplore.”