After my priestly ordination at Thibar in 1948, I was sent by my superiors to our community in rue Friant in Paris in order to undertake university studies; studies which continued at the University of Algiers. I was then appointed to Tunisia to our community of the Institut des Belles Lettres Arabes (IBLA), which was and still is a cultural centre where Christians and Muslims met and still meet one another.
After working in the library and on the IBLA magazine, I was appointed superior of the Catholic Students Centre, which had been founded by the Bishop of Tunis and which was also a place of encounter between Christians and Muslims. Then I worked with our confrere Robert Caspar and some Tunisian friends, all theologians and academics, to set up the Groupe de Recherche Islamo-Chrétien (GRIC), which published many books in France.
In the summer of 1975, at the request of the French Bishops’ Conference, our superiors appointed me once more to Paris to take charge of the Secrétariat pour les Relations avec l’Islam (SRI), which had just been created by the French Church. The mission of the Secretariat was to help the Catholics of our country to know and to become aware of the teachings of Vatican II regarding relationships between Christians and Muslims. After working for about 10 years at SRI and being responsible for our community in Maisons-Alfort, near Paris, I founded, with some friends, the “Groupe d’Amitié Islamo-Chrétienne” (GAIC) with which I worked a lot and still remain in contact.
In the years when SRI and GAIC were established, some of my White Father confreres found it difficult to understand how a “Missionary of Africa” could exercise his ministry in Europe. I am happy to see that, since the last Chapter, our superiors are very attentive to the presence of Muslims in our western countries where we can bring our input and support to the local Church in the very important domain of interreligious relationships and particularly in the area of Justice and Peace.
Michel Lelong, M.Afr.