For centuries, Gibraltar’s tiny population has been a religious melting pot. Here, members of the Gibraltar Interfaith Group, an organisation working to promote religious tolerance on the Rock, share the history of their communities and explain why diversity matters to them.
Anglican: “I saw first hand the consequences of ethnic cleansing”
The Anglican community has had a presence in Gibraltar for several hundred years. The first purpose-built church was The Covent, what is today the King’s Chapel in the heart of the main city. The chapel was originally part of a Franciscan Friary, given to the Church of England after the capture of Gibraltar in 1704. The Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe, inaugurated in 1981, is the largest diocese in the Church of England.
I joined the Gibraltar Interfaith Group (GIG) soon after arriving in Gibraltar in 2011. I recognised the importance of interfaith dialogue as a consequence of working in Bosnia-Herzegovina following the Balkans war, where I saw first hand the consequence of horrific ethnic cleansing. As an ordained priest, I began tentatively to explore ways of engaging in interfaith dialogue at grass-roots level, and arranged a church visit to a service at a local Jewish synagogue. This was an overwhelmingly positive experience for all who participated. Encouraged, I was eager to continue when I moved to Gibraltar.
The GIG, a registered charity, was formed in 2006. It is open to all faiths, and currently includes representatives from the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Baha’i communities. Members meet to discuss and learn from each other’s beliefs, values and traditions.
For instance, the GIG recently organised a creative writing and art competition in schools, asking pupils to address the theme “living happily together in Gibraltar”. The response was most encouraging – something that gives me great hope for the future, particularly in a world torn apart by war and religious intolerance.
Gibraltar will always be a very special place for me: a small community in which all the major faith groups coexist peacefully and respect each other. It is imperative that this continues. In my experience, trust begins at a social level through informal dialogue and friendship. This requires an open mind. It was St Augustine who once said: “Seek to understand before seeking to be understood.”
Reverend Andrew Jacobson was previously assistant chaplain at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Gibraltar
Roman Catholic: “Successive sieges made us depend on each other”
There are just over 20,000 Roman Catholics in Gibraltar, of a population of 35,000. Our community stretches back over 300 years. Before 1704, church life on the Rock was subject to Spanish influence and control; and Catholics lived through many challenges over those three centuries. At points, its bishop was imprisoned, schools were closed without warning, and the population was almost completely evacuated in WWII.
Perhaps because of the successive sieges imposed by Gibraltar’s neighbours, the different groups came to depend on each other. Businesslike relationships always existed between them, which then became friendships. We have long held a deep respect for each other’s right to worship according to their own traditions. In fact, I do not think tolerance is the right word to use – we do not “tolerate” each other, we live in harmony.
The greatest input of the church towards inter-religious harmony takes place not so much at official levels, but rather through constant pastoral encouragement that people get on with each other. This is not something we need to work for, but something we already have.
Monsignor Paul Bear represents the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned, Roman Catholic Diocese of Gibraltar