NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) — Heightened tensions and rising suspicions among Christians and Muslims can be overcome when faith leaders embrace practical peacemaking activities that promote understanding across religious divides, a Kenyan bishop said.

Acknowledging that acts of violence against Christians and symbols of Western culture have fueled the tensions, Bishop Emmanuel Barbara of Malindi, Kenya, told more than 100 participants in a May 10 symposium at Catholic-run Tangaza University that efforts to bring members of the two religious communities together would help relieve anxieties.

Bishop Barbara explained that initiatives in the Malindi Diocese and Mombasa Archdiocese have been successful in building better understanding among Christians and Muslims, likely reducing the risk of violence.

“We are appealing to our clerics to jointly work with their counterparts in the Islamic faith in preaching about peace and coexistence with specifics in suppressing the current heightened cases of tension and fear of suspicion among the local communities,” Bishop Barbara told Catholic News Service after his presentation.

“And depending on the success of the already laid-out program, we could share it with other regions, such as Nairobi, where the same tension and fear of suspicion is being witnessed also,” he said.

Kenya has been rocked in recent months by what officials have described as terrorist acts, from the storming of a shopping mall in Nairobi by al-Shabaab militants from neighboring Somalia in September to periodic small-scale bombings and armed attacks on worshippers in churches.

During the symposium a young Muslim man who asked to remain unnamed, described how he has felt victimized by police harassment simply because he is a Somali refugee and carrying “the features of a terrorist.”

“How long should I continue to suffer from this kind of suspicion and tension simply because I happen to be a Somali refugee?” he asked.

In response, Bishop Barbara said he understood the man’s concern.

“I hear your cry, but take courage, the constitution of this country grants such a protection for a victim like you,” the bishop said.

“More than this, I am also having two young Somali refugees in my compound in Malindi. They have no freedom to walk around, especially at night, least they become victims of the similar situation you have just narrated. We pray time is soon coming when the Kenyan law enforcement men and women will get to respect the law of the land and that of the U.N. as far as the issue of refugees is concerned,” the bishop said.

Merabaqsh Abdul-Azizi Bunni, an Islamic scholar who lectures at St. Paul’s University in Limuru, Kenya, welcomed the joint efforts of Muslims and Christians in promoting coexistence.

“This is the way out to combat the current heightened tension and fear of suspicion, based on the wrong side of the issue that every Muslim for example, ascribes to terrorism by the simple fact that he ascribes to the Islamic faith,” Bunni told CNS.