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‘A Common Word’ in the News

Former Canadian ambassador on Catholic-Muslim meeting

(Vatican Radio) Catholic and Muslim leaders, meeting in the Vatican, have issued a unanimous condemnation of terrorism, violence, persecution and the destruction of places sacred to religious communities. The joint statement came as part of a final communique from a meeting of the Catholic-Muslim Forum which held its third Seminar in Rome from 11th to 13th November. The theme of the meeting was “Working Together to Serve Others,” with a particular focus on education of young people, enhancing interreligious dialogue and service to society. To find out more Philippa Hitchen spoke to one of the Catholic members of the Forum…….

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The group of 12 Catholic and 12 Muslim experts in interreligious relations acknowledged that their meeting comes at a time of extreme tension and conflict, underlining the vital importance of increased dialogue and practical cooperation between their different religious communities. In their concluding statement the delegates unanimously condemned “acts of terrorism, oppression, violence, persecution, desecration of sacred places, and the destruction of cultural heritage,” reiterating the conviction that it is never acceptable to use religion to justify such acts.

But the participants, from countries as diverse as Indonesia, Nigeria, Iraq, Kosovo, Canada and Argentina, also discussed many examples of places where Catholics and Muslims are working successfully together in educational, charitable, or emergency relief efforts. Above all, the group stressed the vital importance of educating young people, through the family, school, university, church or mosque to promote a well-rounded identity grounded in respect for others.

The Catholic-Muslim Forum was founded in 2008 under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the group of Muslim scholars who spearheaded The Common Word initiative in the wake of Pope Benedict’s Regensburg address. To find out more about the goals of this third meeting, I spoke to one of the Catholic participants, the former Canadian ambassador to the Holy See, Anne Leahy, who teaches Catholic Social Thought at McGill University in Montreal.

She says all participants were very aware of the dramatic events in many parts of the world and also, on all sides, “of the responsibility of religious believers to do something to bring peace within communities as an immediate task…”

The seminar, Dr Leahy says, looked at how to bring young people to a better understanding of both their own religion and that of other believers in the community. In particular, she says, participants discussed small projects in countries like Ghana or Indonesia where Christians and Muslims are working together for the benefit of the local community.

Pope Francis, the emeritus ambassador notes, speaks often of a culture of encounter, with the conviction that much good can come “when people put their differences aside, understand where the other is coming from and do some work together on the ground.” The meeting, she says, is an important testimony, at a time when there is such difficulty, to see religious leaders talking to each other. At the end of this meeting she says, local leaders must pick up the relay baton and enact the kind of practical projects that can bring young Catholics and Muslims together for the common good.

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