Cardinal Francis George was recognized Wednesday by Chicago-area Muslim leaders for helping improve dialogue between Muslims and Catholics during his tenure as archbishop.
Officials with the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago say the leader of the archdiocese of Chicago has always been ready to lend a hand to the Muslim community, from partnering on issues of mutual concern to helping Muslim leaders get a seat at the table with elected officials.
The cardinal, who received the organization's first award of appreciation Wednesday night during a dinner ceremony in Rosemont, said he's tried to be "a good neighbor" to the Muslim community since becoming archbishop in 1997. And since then, he says Catholic and Muslim leaders have been able to work together on social issues, including poverty, hunger, racism and anti-Muslim attitudes and a "breakdown in the traditional family."
"One of my guiding principles in life and ministry has been if you get relationships right, all the rest will follow," George said. "I believe it is together we have gotten the relationship right between Catholics and Muslims here in Chicago. We've done that together. Not because of me or anyone of you, but all of us together have been intent upon establishing a relationship that is more than neighborly."
Mohammed Kaiseruddin, the organization's chairman, said the council has relied on George's "wise counsel and stature" in addressing social issues, and he's lent his support when asked about ways to interact with governmental agencies and legislators.
"The cardinal has really given us a lot of time, so much so that some of my Catholic friends feel envy with how many times I have met with the cardinal," he said.
Kaiseruddin said the cardinal has always been interested in understanding "each other's faith in a very deep level," and as a result, religious scholars from the council and the archdiocese will be meeting soon to engage in a formal interfaith dialogue.
The cardinal has been battling several health issues of late, and his attendance at the dinner marked one of his first public appearances since being released from the hospital in mid-March. George, who has been receiving chemotherapy treatment for kidney cancer, had been hospitalized for about a week with flu-like symptoms.
Inamul Haq, a professor of Islamic studies at Elmhurst College, said George's attendance at the dinner while "battling health issues is more proof of his commitment to build Muslim-Catholic relations."