Pope Benedict XVI will host a ground-breaking “summit” of Catholic and Muslim leaders in November, according to a Vatican statement.
The first meeting of the “The Catholic-Muslim Forum” will take place on November 4 to 6 in Rome, with 24 religious leaders and scholars from each side, the statement released on Wednesday said.
The themes of the first session will be “Love of God, Love of Neighbour”, “Theological and Spiritual Foundation” and “Human Dignity and Mutual Respect”.
Benedict will address the group, the statement said.
The announcement comes after a two-day meeting at the Vatican with five representatives of a group of Muslims who signed an appeal to the pope to begin a dialogue between the two religions.
Last year 138 Muslim scholars and leaders wrote to the German-born pontiff and other Christian leaders saying “the very survival of the world itself” may depend on dialogue between the two faiths.
Since then, the number of Muslim leaders who signed the appeal as part of the “Common Word” group, has grown to 225.
On the Vatican the side the meeting on Wednesday was headed by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
The Muslims were led by Sheikh Addal Hakim Murad, also known as Timothy Winter, president of Britain’s Muslim Academic Trust, and Yahya Sergio Yahe Pallavicini, vice-president of the Italian Islamic Religious Community.
“We have to bring the dialogue up to date following the great successes of the pontificate of John Paul II,” Pallavicini told the Reuters agency.
He said the meeting later this year would undoubtedly talk about terrorism.
“Terrorism is one thing that has to be discussed,” Pallavicini said.
“All religious leaders must renew a message of peace in their faith. Then it will be easier to isolate extremists and avoid the wrong use of religion.”
Catholic-Muslim relations have been particularly strained since 2006 after Benedict delivered a lecture in Regensburg, Germany, that was taken by Muslims to imply that Islam was violent and irrational.
Muslims around the world protested and the pope sought to make amends when he visited Turkey’s Blue Mosque and prayed towards Mecca with its Imam.
Benedict repeatedly expressed regret for the reaction to his speech in Regensburg but he stopped short of a clear apology sought by Muslims.