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Ducharme Lecture Examines the Role of the Virgin Mary in Christian-Muslim Dialogue

Ducharme mary feature

Rita George-Tvrtković, Ph.D., professor of historical theology at Benedictine University, presented the Spring 2019 Ducharme Lecture “The Virgin Mary: Bridge or Barrier Between Catholics and Muslims?” Tvrtković's dynamic lecture covered both the Christian and Islamic traditions. She provided examples of when and where these two Abrahamic faiths converged toward deeper understanding and diverged, sometimes to the point of conflict.

Tvrtković began her guided lecture with what the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity say about Mary. Many in the audience were surprised to learn the Mary is a key figure in the Qur’an. She is mentioned in Surah 3, and Surah 19 is named after her. Both traditions share the Annunciation story with remarkable similarities. “In both accounts, purity and closeness to God are stressed. Beginning a conversation with scripture is a great way to start,” Tvrtković said.

“Two types of bridges were built between Catholics and Muslims throughout history in regard to Mary,” said Tvrtković. “One was a bridge of friendship. The other was a bridge of conversion.” Using the Medieval Cantigas, Tvrtković presented several artistic representation of both types of bridges. She commented, “Medieval Christian theologians, like Nicholas of Cusa, were surprised to discover the devotion Muslims had for Mary.”

Tvrtković went on to explain how in the early modern period, Mary was used as a symbol of victory for Christians. This became especially popular after the Battle of Lepanto with the defeat of the Ottomans by the Christian forces of the Holy League, with Christians believing the battle was won through the intercession of Mary. This created a barrier between Christians and Muslims during this period of history.

The lecture concluded with a reflection on the status of Christian-Muslim relations today. Many believers from both traditions share Marian shrines as locations for pilgrimage, such as the House of Mary in Ephesus and Our Lady of Africa in Algeria. “While there is still interreligious debate and legitimate differences in beliefs about Mary between Islam and Christianity, the intrareligious debates between various kinds of Christians and various kinds of Muslims can be more intense,” reflected Tvrtković. “The Vatican II document Nostra Aetate discusses points of common ground we [Christians] share with Muslims, including honoring Mary. We have an opportunity to pay attention to the bridges we can build through Mary today. But it’s going to take asking questions, the ability to listen, pondering, hospitality, and trust.”

To view the Spring 2019 Ducharme Lecture in its entirety, visit the Mount's Livestream page.