Building Bridges: Islam and the Catholic Church

Building Bridges: Islam and the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church and Christianity as a whole has had a complicated and unique relationship with Islam since its inception. In recent years, with concerns for Islamic extremism on the rise, it seemed fitting for Saint Leo University to have a speaker that can explain the nuances of Islam and clarify any misunderstandings students may have about the faith.

Dr. Gabriel Said Reynolds, an expert on the Koran who teaches at Notre Dame University, spoke at St. Leo University on Nov. 4th, and gave an invigorating and fascinating presentation on Islam. Prior to his talk, the event was invocated by Abbot Isaac, leader and chief spiritual advisor at St. Leo Monastery.

The Abbot said that “we are all on the same journey… That there can be no peace without prayer.”

Then Dr. Matt Tapie, who helped organize the event, spoke and explained the significance of Nostra Aetate, a document released by the Catholic Church explaining its relationship to other faiths. The document has just passed its fifty year anniversary (it was originally put into effect on Oct. 28th 1965), and Dr. Tapie made it clear that the document is relevant now more than ever.

Dr. Reynolds showed himself to be an incredibly affable man, one whose personality serves to complement his immense knowledge of Islam. He communicated how thankful he was for the opportunity to speak at St. Leo University, and that the talk would be split into six parts.

Reynolds first posed the question “Is Islam a religion like any other?”

Dr. Reynolds presents the fact that Islam is the only major World Religion to develop after Christianity, and the only major religion to directly address Christianity, and the importance of Jesus. The Koran even gives specific instructions on how Muslims are to treat Christians, and offers its own interpretation of who Jesus really is. In Islam, Jesus is considered a great figure, a normal man, a servant of God, and one of many prophets in the Koran.

The second part of Reynolds’ discussion talked about the God of the Koran, and what makes him unique. Dr. Reynolds talked about the oneness of God, and the importance in Islam of choosing how one talks about God.According to Dr. Reynolds, Islam emphasizes that even the name of God is holy, that a Muslim must never blaspheme or demean the name of God or the Prophet.

Dr. Reynolds then talked about “the problem of Shirk”; “Shirk” is considered the only unforgivable sin in Islam, it is literally the sin of “ascribing partners to Allah”. Shirk provides a challenge for Christianity because in certain circles of Islam, the Trinity is seen as a violation of Shirk. But there are other similar commandments against Idolatry in Christianity and Judaism.

Dr. Reynolds then shifted his focus onto the prophet Muhammad, and his importance and significance in Islam. He likened the relationship between Muslims and Muhammad, to the “what would Jesus do?” plastic bands that were popular a number of years ago. In Islam, Muslims are encouraged to imitate Muhammad in everything that they do, that Muhammad’s life is considered exactly how a human’s life should be led on Earth to honor God. Muhammad is considered to be the Last and greatest prophet of God. Muhammad’s revelations were considered so pure and special, that his life and his work as written in the Koran, are the immutable word of God.

The next section that Reynolds devotes his talk to is Islamic Law, otherwise known as “Sha’ria”. Much like how Muslims view Muhammad as a perfect example of a Godly man, they in turn view the Koran as the perfect example of every aspect of life, including how to govern. Certain Islamic nations have left behind some of the more problematic aspects of old Sha’ria Law, the aspects developed through tradition instead of through the Koran, such as the treatment of non-Muslims (a non-Muslim may not live above a Muslim person, for example, etc.).

Certain Extremist groups use Sha’ria law as a reason to enforce brutal laws on others. This misuse leads to the fifth part of Dr. Reynolds’ talk, a breakdown on the motives of the Islamic State and their justifications. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are an example of extremism in Islam, they use brutality as a method of instilling fear, and they extort the belief that brutality is inherent to “true” Islam. ISIL’s main belief is that all other Islamic nations have gone astray from the Koran, and that all other nations are abominations in the eyes of Allah. But the ultimate goal for ISIL is to bring about the “ultimate confrontation” between Islam and the West, the Islamic Apocalypse. Even ISIL’s official magazine is named “Dabiq,” named after a small village in eastern Syria, which is said to be the site of the final battle of good and evil.

The sixth and final part of Dr. Reynold’s talk discussed the relationship between the Church and Islam. Reynolds’ speaks about how in Nostra Aetate the Church points out the commonalities between Christianity and Islam. Muslims and Christians both follow the same God, are commanded to be obedient to “inscrutable teachings” (praying five times a day), and that both religions are inherently monotheistic. Dr. Reynolds says that it is important that we promote dialogue between the two countries, not try and drive a wedge between them by becoming polemic in the way we teach the faith.

Dr. Gabriel Said Reynolds offered a deep and beautiful understanding of Islam and Koran (all while speaking flawless Arabic), and showed that theologically, Islam has more in common with Christianity than it has apart from it.

Diplomacy Through Competition

tampa bay rays in cubs- online

In only the second time since 1959, a Major League Baseball team competed in a game in Cuba. This team was local to Saint Leo, the Tampa Bay Rays. Playing on Tuesday, March 22, the Rays beat the Cuban National Team 4-1 in Havana’s Estadio Latinoamericano.

The game was attended by dignitaries from both countries, including Cuban President Raul Castro, as well as the First Lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama. This also marks the first time a sitting president has visited the small, island nation just 90 miles away from the Florida Keys since the 1928 visit by Calvin Coolidge.

Talking to, President Obama discussed the historic impact that both his visit and this game has.

“That’s what this visit is about: remembering what we share, reflecting upon the barriers we’ve broken — as people and as nations — and looking toward a better future. Because while I will not ignore the important differences between our governments, I came to Cuba to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” said President Obama.

It was not only an important return to diplomacy for two countries, but also a return home for Dayron Varona, a Cuban native who defected three years ago, and who signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Rays organization last year.

Varona was the first batter of the game, making contact on the first pitch for a sharply hit ground ball for an out. While he may not have performed on the field, Varona’s appearance at the game was groundbreaking on a different level, being a defector generally meant leaving friends and family behind, never to return.

Overall, the Rays were commended for their willingness to be a part of this historic event. Star pitcher Chris Archer was very active in the pre-game ceremonies, joining the team in shaking President Obama’s hand, and also delivering a glove to the President as well. Noting how passionate the first family was about baseball, Archer spoke with Sports net’s Faizal Khamisa about meeting them. While President Obama, a noted Chicago White Sox fan was not totally aware of him, First Lady Michelle Obama was, and he noted “I shook the first lady’s hand, SHE was telling him who I was.”

Archer also spoke with, saying “I met the president and the first lady [Michelle Obama], and the first question I had for the first lady was why she didn’t respond to me on Twitter. Apparently, they don’t look at it as much as we do. It was awesome. [President Obama] complimented me not only on my ability but the way I carry myself and the way I speak. Coming from him, there’s really no higher compliment.”

This was a huge day for the Rays organization, as it was nationally televised on ESPN, which helps raise awareness of the team and the talent that it has. The commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred, was especially proud of this moment.

“They embraced this and were great ambassadors for our game,” Manfred told

In what was considered a major success, Tampa Bay Rays helped diplomacy in Cuba, and with how popular this event was, may bring further games to that country, fostering peace between two nations.

Excellence Through Cooperation

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An enormous number of college students absolutely despise group work. The thought of being forced to work with other students, and often to present the results of this cooperation, often causes immense amounts of frustration and anxiety. However, the question still stands: does group work have a place in educational environments, or is it unnecessary aggravation?

The matter really comes down to the fact that education needs to find a balance between creating a comfortable learning situation for students, and forcing those same students to confront new and unknown scenarios. If a student is allowed to be completely comfortable without trying anything new then they risk descending into a sort of educational limbo where they’ll never learn much of anything. However, students also cannot be constantly forced into new situations, as they’ll often be quite overwhelmed. A balance between the two must be met, and that balance can often be found through group projects.

These projects can force students to interact with others that they might not interact with otherwise, and often the various people involved in these projects will have different methods of working and thinking. The adversity of combining these different methods and perspectives is one of the primary purposes of group work. While the material is important, the learning experience of having to cooperate with another student is even more so.

According to Carnegie Mellon University, “Group projects can help students develop a host of skills that are increasingly important in the professional world. Positive group experiences, moreover, have been shown to contribute to student learning, retention, and overall college success.”

All of this being said, group project assignments do need to be streamlined to some extent. Many educators hold every member of a group equally responsible for the grade, but then they assign a grade to the project as a whole without assessing the effort put forth by each individual. While it may be argued that grading the group as a whole encourages cooperation, often it leads to anger from students who may have put forth more effort than their compatriots. If a group assignment is graded based upon individual effort, however, or perhaps student assessments of their group partners, then the possible for personal growth might increase.

One of the other prominent arguments against group assignments is that it is unfair to force incredibly introverted students to work in social situations such as these. While it is true that students who are naturally introverted might not flourish in a group environment as well as natural extroverts, it is still incredibly important that they learn how to work in a group. Group work is a reality in the professional world as well as in academia, and if introverted students aren’t taught how to work with others while in college they certainly won’t have any better chance to learn it.

Finally, instructors can also benefit from group assignments. According to Carnegie Mellon University: “Group work also introduces more unpredictability in teaching, since groups may approach tasks and solve problems in novel, interesting ways. This can be refreshing for instructors. Additionally, group assignments can be useful when there are a limited number of viable project topics to distribute among students. And they can reduce the number of final products instructors have to grade.”

Based upon all of this, group projects have a place in the academic world. While they should not be the bread and butter than teaching is built upon, neither should they be fully removed from education purely to make students more comfortable. Group projects are an important educational tool when used in moderation, and even students that hate socialization and working with others can stand to learn something from them.

Softball on a Tear

The Lady Lions are not just getting attention on campus. Ranked ninth in the country as of March 21, the highest the softball team has ever been ranked in the school’s history, they currently hold a dominating record of 26-1. This outstanding performance so far has gained the attention of both, as well as the Tampa Bay Times.

The record is not the only impressive information coming from the team. They also boast a team earned run average of 0.28, which is the best in the country. The Lady Lions also have a team batting average of .365, which is the third highest in the nation. On an individual performance level, the team has three pitchers in the top four for ERA in the country. Sophomore Samantha Tyler leads the nation with a 0.18 ERA, directly followed by Senior Alana Tabel, with an ERA of 0.24. Junior Stephanie Adkins currently holds the fourth lowest ERA in Division Two, at 0.38.

Head Coach Erin Kinberger is understandably proud of her team’s pitching staff.

“Our pitching staff is phenomenal. We are fortunate to have in my opinion three No. 1s. They work together and have each other’s backs.  We have a lot of minds working together during the games starting with our catcher Sommer Pollard who knows each pitcher like the back of her hand,” Head Coach Kinberger told

Tabel is also excited about the pitching performance.

“The pitching staff we have this year is the best pitching staff I have been a part of in my life. As a battery, we look at each other as a team within a team. We all work together in the bullpens and encourage each other to improve every day. When one of us has trouble with something, one of us steps in and tries to help and says what personally helps us in those situations. It makes me so happy that we have 3 “number ones” on this team, because if I ever get a jam, there is not one pitcher I would prefer over the other one to come in for me, I know both of them would get the job done. We all have one common goal on this team, it is to win and win a national championship. None of us care how it takes to get there,” Tabel told

These solid performances have come from the offense as well. Freshman Brooke Samios-Uy leads the team with 28 runs batted in, and even though they only have four home runs as a team, the Lady Lions make up for it with their efficient and effective speed, stealing 68 bases on 73 attempts, good for a 93 percent steal rate, good for 13th in the country.

In recognition of the team’s performances, the Sunshine State Conference has given players on the team nine players of the week awards this year, with Tabel earning her second of the season on March 21.

With only 17 games remaining, the Lady Lions are approaching the end of the season on an historic pace. If they keep this up, a deep run in the NCAA Division Two Softball National Championship Tournament is well within the realm of possibility for this dominant team.

Zika Virus Trasmission from Africa to America

History has shown that almost all of the debilitating and destructive diseases that have emerged were not predicted before they happening, but were only discovered when they were already in existence.

One such disease is the Zika virus, which emerged in Uganda in 1947. The Americas have not been without similar experiences. The people of North America will not forget the 1633 outbreak of smallpox. Nor will people in Philadelphia exist without recalling the 1793 outbreak of yellow fever. And the cholera pandemic of 1830-1851 will remain infamous because of its spread from Indonesia and the Philippines to around the world. In 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic during World War I killed 675,000 Americans. These outbreaks of diseases are only a few of the countless strains humanity has faced. There was a polio outbreak in 1952, an outbreak of Asian Flu in 1957, an epidemic of HIV and AIDS in 1980, an outbreak of cryptosporidium in 1993, and an outbreak of whooping cough in California in 2010.

Emergence and Meaning

This virus emanated from a forest in Uganda called Zika, where it was discovered in the body of a monkey. Thus it took its name from this forest and became Zika virus. These are the same mosquitoes that spread dengue and West Nile virus.

“Zika Virus has been around for a long time; it was first seen in 1947 in Uganda,” said Dr. Iain Duffy, Assistant Professor in the Department of Math and Science. “It is been known in Africa for 70 years and it is only in the last few years that it now spread in South America, and it is because of people from the United State that traveled and where bringing it back from South America.”

According to an article from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “Its first evidence of human infection was in 1952. This was known through the result of aserological survey in Uganda,”

Although this virus has been around for more than 69 years, most Americans are unaware of it. However, with the recent re-emergence people are concerned and fearful.

According to Duffy, this fear is unnecessary.

“Thank those that get scared unnecessarily and think that it comes around from patients of people who have been seen in the press – the babies with the small heads and all the rest of it,” Duffy said. “So there is this fear factor because people have seen these patients.”

According to Duffy and the CDC website, there are about 82 cases in the United States, and they were caused by people who traveled to other countries, mostly in South America. There are no known cases in the United States transmitting the virus to another person. This is because there are so few cases in the United States and the mosquitoes that usually transfer the virus are not in the country.

The Zika virus is part of the Flavirus famil along with dengue and the West Nile virus. These two viruses have been seen in the United States and the Tampa Bay area for a number of years, yet there are not many people being infected with these viruses.

Mode of Transmission

Many are unaware of how the virus spreads from person to person and from community to community.

“I have heard the Zika virus is transmitted through sex and body fluids,” said Kenneth Kelly, a Graduate Assistant at the Cannon Memorial Library.

“There may be a case of sexual transmission, but again there is no evidence of that, it is merely spread by mosquitoes,” Duffy said.

According to a situation report by Worldaware solutions from fen. 1, 2016, “The bite of an infected Aedes Aegypti mosquito is primarily responsible for the transmission of Zika; however, infected Aedesal bopictus (Asian Tiger) mosquitoes are also known to spread the virus. The Zika virus has a quick transference rate; once an infected individual has been bitten by a mosquito that newly infected mosquito can pass the virus to several others through a bite”

Five days later, the Coast News reported that “the Aedes mosquito picks up the virus in the blood as it tries to suck the human blood which it needs for laying eggs. This virus travels from their gut through their circulating system to their salivary glands and is injected into its next human victim.”

This shows that the Andes mosquitoes can spread a strong virus after subsequent infections of humans.

Signs and Symptoms

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) fact sheet, the symptoms are similar to other arbovirus infections, such as dengue, and include fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise, and headache. These symptoms are usually mild and last for two to seven days.

“Zika virus is like dengue and West Nile viruses,” said Duffy. “It gives you fever, rashes, and muscle pain, but it goes away in a week or so and you don’t ever hear of people dying. I think there are a lot people scared of this virus, which should not really be because many people are infected and it has not be killing.”

Rate of Spread

This virus has gained more ground and victims since 1952 when its first evidence of human infection was known in Uganda.

According to the American Association of Science on Feb. 10, 2016, “As of 2007 there were 14 confirmed cases of human infection from Africa and Southeast Asia. By April 2007, the first outbreak outside Asia and Africa occurred.”

In 2014 the virus spread eastwards  across the  pacific  ocean to French Polynesia then to the island, in 2015 it reached Mexico,  central  America, the Caribbean and south America where it has reached its pandemic level.

“I am worried about the upcoming Olympic games in Brazil since it is one of the countries that has the virus,” said Phylomen Wanjiru, a Masters Student in Education Instructional Leadership concentration. “I hope the organizers are doing everything possible to prevent the virus from spreading both to the entire national contingents and those that will come and watch the games, because it is then crystal clear that the Zika virus has come to take its own turn.”

“The Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will not be cancelled and the mosquito-borne Zika virus will not affect the games,” said Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee in Aljazeera. “There will be good conditions for athletes and spectators at the Rio Games in August, despite the explosive spread of the Zika virus across America.”

According to the U.S. department of Health and Human Services, the rate at which the virus spreads was cause for a state of a public health emergency on Feb. 1. On Feb. 5, numerous countries were confirmed to have active transmission of the Zika virus including the Caribbean islands, much of South America, American Samoa, and Cape Verde in Africa.

As of Mar. 21, the total number of Zika virus cases in Florida was 42.

Why the Unrest?

Many countries have warned their citizens about the virus, urging them to stop travelling or having sex to help alleviate the spread.

In Jan.  2016, the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a travel guidance on affected countries including the use of enhanced precautions, and guide for pregnant women including considering postponing travel. Other governments issued similar warnings.

Other countries like Colombia, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica advised women to postpone getting pregnant until more is known about the Zika virus. So many countries are raising alarm about this virus, the question then is why the unrest?

This unrest may likely be due to the following. Firstly, the disease has no known cure or vaccine yet.

Tied to that, research has shown on increase in microcephaly, a neurological birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and suffer incomplete brain development, and Guillian-Barre syndrome, which is a neurological disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the nervous system causing gradual weakness of the legs and arms, paralysis, and death, occur with an increase in Zika virus infections. The Zika virus has not been fully proven to be responsible for these sicknesses.

Everyone is at risk of contracting the Zika virus because it commonly spreads through a mosquito bite. What’s more, scientists do not know much about the virus as a whole.

The best ways to handle this virus is to intensify research into creating a vaccine and practicing prevention to ward off mosquitos

“Since it is merely spread by mosquitoes, just like with other mosquito borne diseases, you just have to take precautions when you go into area where there may be mosquitoes,” said Duffy. “Wear long sleeves and spray yourself with repellent.”

“A permethern-treated uniform that is properly worn, Deetor Picaridian applied to your skin, and a permethrin-treated bed net will help,” said Teresa Dadez, Director of the Health and Wellness Center.


Disney and Dali: A Fantastical Friendship

Decades ago, Walt Disney and Salvador Dali forged a unique partnership and created a masterpiece that, today, is widely unheard of. For the first time in years, their story is being told and their dream is being brought to life anew.

The Dali Museum, located in St. Petersburg, FL., is currently featuring a new exhibit that is definitely worth checking out. “Disney and Dali: Architects of the Imagination” displays pieces from both of these artistic masterminds and reveals the history behind the magical friendship between the two.

Disney and Dali met at a private engagement in 1945 and almost instantly developed an unshakeable bond based on their unique personalities and common dream. When the friends weren’t visiting each other with family or taking fishing trips, they were collaborating on their masterpiece, a short film called “Destino”, which depicted the unlikely romance between a ballerina and a baseball player.

Unfortunately, due to financial woes brought about by the war, “Destino” was shelved. It wasn’t until 1999 that “Destino” was given the breath of life; Walt’s nephew, Roy Disney, found the lost footage, finished the film, and released it to the world. Aside from inside the Dali Museum gift shop, “Destino” can be viewed as an added bonus feature on the special edition Blu-Ray release of “Fantasia & Fantasia 2000.”

The “Architects of the Imagination” exhibit features a multitude of original sketches, paintings and story boards from both artists, as well as historical film and audio clips and photographs. This breath taking and thought provoking attraction shows patrons that before Disney and Dali inspired the world, they first inspired each other.

The exhibit runs through June 12, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, with hours extended until 8 p.m. on Thursdays. Tickets are available to purchase online, starting at $24 for general admission. The price is $17 for students, with a special $10deal for college students onThursdays. A full list of prices, as well as more information about the museum and this particular exhibit can be found on the Dali Museum’s website.