Leaders of the Catholic and Islamic religions have been meeting to discuss ways to improve relations between them and to discuss issues that unite or divide them.
Meetings have been held at the Vatican and included an audience with Pope Benedict. The Islamic leaders had met previously in the United States with Protestant and Anglican church officials.
Before the meetings in the United States, the Islamic leaders had issued a manifesto called “Common Word” which argued that “both religions share core principles of love of God and neighbor.” The talks focused on what this means for the religions and how they can create harmony between them.
Two years earlier, Pope Benedict had angered the Muslim world when he made a speech in which he implied that the Islamic faith was violent and irrational.
A report on one Vatican meeting was filed on the Internet by Tom Heneghan, religion editor for Reuters News Service.
Leaders of the two delegations at the Vatican meeting were the Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran. The meeting opened with a moment of silence so the delegations, each of which included 28 members, could say a prayer for the meeting’s success. One delegation said that “it was a very cordial atmosphere.”
Tauran, who is head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said that the meeting represented “a new chapter in a long history of strained relations.” The closed meeting started when a Catholic official spelled out the Christian teaching that humans can approach God only through Jesus Christ.
In response, Muslim theologian Sayyed Hossein Nasr responded that such a view excluded non-Christians from salvation and suggested ways to see Islamic parallels to Christian views of God’s love.
Meetings of this kind reflect a new urgency among Muslims after the Sept. 11 attacks and after Pope Benedict’s speech two years ago.
Delegates said the discussion that followed was friendly and respectful, not a clash of opinions.
Christianity is the world’s largest religion with 2 billion followers, just over half of them Catholics. Islam is next with 1.3 billion believers.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia also has been interested in conferring with Christian leaders in order to conduct an interfaith dialogue.
Such meetings are positive steps for a world that has been bitterly – and unnecessarily — divided over religious beliefs. If there is any chance for a truly peaceful world, why shouldn’t the leaders of major religions be involved? They teach that people should love God and their fellow human beings.
Leaders of Judaism also should participate. Meetings of the top officials of major religions could have an important role in stopping the cruelty and violence that can be provoked by religious issues. The recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, are believed to be caused in part by conflicts over religious beliefs.
Discussions with the leaders of the Hindu and Buddhist religions also should be included in the future.
A sustained effort to bring about peaceful relations among the world’s religions would be a great benefit to people all over the world.
The major faiths are a very long way from maintaining policies of mutual respect and collaboration, but at least a beginning has been made.
Bill Boyne is a retired editor and publisher of the Post-Bulletin. His column appears weekly.