The top Vatican official in charge of relations with Islam, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, said he expected an advanced group of three Muslim representatives in February or March to lay the groundwork for the meeting.
“In a certain sense, (the meeting) can be defined as historic,” Tauran told the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, in an edition published earlier this week.
Some 138 Muslim scholars wrote to Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders in October, saying “the very survival of the world itself” might depend on dialogue.
The Pope, who as head of the Catholic Church represents more than half the world’s two billion Christians, responded in November by welcoming their call and inviting them to Rome.
The German-born Pontiff sparked Muslim protests in 2006 by making a speech hinting that Islam was violent and irrational.
He repeatedly expressed regret for the reaction to the speech but stopped short of the clear apology sought by Muslims.
Tauran raised eyebrows last year by expressing doubt over whether the two faiths could agree on issues such as God, love and how to read sacred scripture.
But he told L’Osservatore Romano that the Muslim scholars’ call for dialogue in their October open letter may have marked a turning point.
“It’s still true that, for some Muslims, inter-religious dialogue is neither a reality nor a priority. But it’s also true that we’re perhaps seeing an interesting development in the open letter,” Tauran said. “The 138 signatories effectively represent 43 countries.”
Among the items on the agenda were respect for an individual’s dignity and teaching tolerance to new generations, Tauran said.
© Reuters 2008 All rights reserved