Catholic centre in Cairo promoting tolerance through art
CAIRO - Father Boutros Daniel, director of the Catholic Centre for Cinema in Egypt, said art is the ideal tool to spread the values of religious tolerance and counter-extremism.
Daniel is using the Catholic Centre for Cinema to confront opponents of the arts and preserve a film archive thought to be the oldest in the Middle East. The archive includes rare films such as “In the Land of Tutankhamun,” produced about 100 years ago. The centre has widened its role by focusing on honouring film creators during an annual film festival that has been in place for half a century.
Daniel said music “was a refined art that speaks to the soul and is the only language that the whole world understands. Politics and interests can divide people but rhythms can bring them together.”
Objectives of the Catholic Centre for Cinema include reviving films and series that spread centrist ideas and “supporting artists who do not seek financial gains through their works but pursue the message and objectives of art.”
Centre staff members are keen on caring for artists, supporting them during illness and lifting them out of isolation through a Day of Giving. When the Actors’ Guild announces one of its members is unwell, a delegation from the centre is sent to the actor’s bedside as a gesture of gratitude for the person’s work and for promoting humanistic ideals and values through art and humour.
Daniel pointed out that, by belonging to a specific religious sect, the centre had to set criteria for the type of cinema and art it promotes. The concerned works must promote noble social values and keep away from religion, politics and sex. The films must promote moral and humanistic values without turning to vulgarity and undue excitement.
Besides being fluent in Arabic, Daniel speaks English, French, Italian, Spanish and German. He explained his intellectual openness by his love for the humanities. He said all Catholic monks study literary subjects. The literature curricula at the Colleges of Arts at Cairo and Ain Shams universities are their favourites.
Daniel, however, did not stop at one major in literature and studied journalism, philosophy and music. He completed a master’s degree in journalism and a doctorate in music and worked as an economics writer at the government’s Al-Ahram newspaper.
Daniel attributed his multiple interests to coincidence. His entry into the world of music, for example, came when a music teacher pushed him to fill in one morning at mass for an absent comrade. After that, he studied piano and earned a doctorate in music in Hungary.
He said he wanted to study scientific subjects but church rules restricted monks to literary subjects so Daniel switched to journalism and completed a master’s degree in Italy. During his doctoral studies, he was summoned to Egypt to head the Catholic Centre for Cinema.
Daniel said countering terrorism and extremism cannot be done through security measures alone. The roots of the problem reside in the false ideas planted in young people. This requires a clear strategy and a programme to raise awareness through tools that have been used to indoctrinate new generations and ignite sectarian strife.
He pointed out that the Eastern mindset has a strong religious bent but is often driven by rumours. This requires instilling values of love and tolerance at an early age, starting with the family circle and schools. Clerics from all denominations must temper their discourse and counter attempts to create sectarian strife, Daniel says.
He said Egyptian society is moderate by nature but still needs to hear the discourse in mosques, churches and closed circles whose first goal is to promote human awareness and science.
Daniel proposed to emulate the Emirati experience of creating a Ministry of Tolerance in Egypt. The United Arab Emirates has taken important steps in spreading the values of coexistence and tolerance. Items that may incite racism and intolerance have been dropped from Emirati curricula and subjects promoting the positive virtues and values of all religions have been added, encouraging students from all faiths to communicate and understand each other.
During Ramadan, Daniel is keen to keep his tradition of having an iftar every year that brings together about 200 people from all sections of the society. He distributes lanterns to patients and visitors at children’s hospitals and homes for the elderly, as well as participates in weddings and funerals.
He recently organised a recital at the Institute of Oncology with many artists after this institute was the target of a terrorist attack and he is a constant contributor to campaigns aimed at changing negative societal behaviour.
Following the uprising of June 30, 2013, nearly 60 churches and Christian service buildings in Egypt were burned and vandalised but Daniel insisted that “relations between Muslims and Christians in Egypt are excellent despite some attempts to disturb them and give the international community an unrealistic image of these relations.”
Daniel defended openness as a religious message and presented a vision for a solution to the social disintegration that has accelerated since the introduction of modern communication technology. He advocates, for example, removing mobile phones for an hour each day during which the family sits together to discuss and talk and thus recapture the feelings of closeness and love between family members and relatives because the family unit is the first bulwark against most risks involved in irresponsible use of social networking to provoke religious and sectarian feuds.
Daniel said that becoming a role model starts at home. Children tend to close their ears to advice from adults but open their eyes to the example of a cleric or a sheikh. The former must match their deeds to their words so young people do not lose faith in models to emulate and respect.