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‘A Common Word’ in the News

Inaugural Catholic-Muslim dialogue affirms freedom of belief

The first meeting at the Vatican of a Roman Catholic-Muslim Forum
has affirmed the right of individuals and communities to practise their
religion in private and in public, while also rejecting terrorism in
the name of religion – writes Luigi Sandri.

“Genuine love of neighbour implies respect of the person and her or
his choices in matters of conscience and religion,” the 48 Catholic and
Muslim scholars and leaders at the meeting stated in their final
declaration released on 6 November after two days of discussions.

Catholics and Muslims, they stated, “are called to be instruments of
love and harmony among believers, and for humanity as a whole,
renouncing any oppression, aggressive violence and terrorism,
especially that committed in the name of religion; and upholding the
principle of justice for all”. Participants also noted, “We commit
ourselves jointly to ensuring that human dignity and respect are
extended on an equal basis to both men and women.”

The seminar was made up of 24 Catholics, chosen by the Pontifical
Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and by 24 signatories of an open
letter from 2007 by Muslim scholars to Christian leaders, called “A
Common Word”. Five advisors from each faith also took part in the

They met from 4 to 6 November 2008 to discuss the theme “Love of God, Love of Neighbour”.

The “Common Word” statement was sent to Pope Benedict XVI and to
other Christian leaders, including the Rev. Samuel Kobia, head of the
World Council of Churches. It said that world peace depends on
cooperation between Christianity and Islam.

This month’s Vatican meeting came two years after a speech by Pope
Benedict in Germany in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor who linked
Islam and violence. The speech caused a furore in many parts of the
Muslim world and the Pope stated afterwards that the words in his
speech ascribed to the emperor did not represent his own views.

The Vatican and Muslim leaders later agreed to create the forum.

“As Catholic and Muslim believers, we are aware of the summons and
imperative to bear witness and to the transcendent dimension of life,
through a spirituality nourished by prayer, in a world which is
becoming more and more secularised and materialistic,” seminar
participants stated.

They agreed to explore the possibility “of establishing a permanent
Catholic-Muslim committee to coordinate responses to conflicts and
other emergency situations”, and to organise a second seminar “in a
Muslim-majority country yet to be determined”.

Pope Benedict received participants to the forum, inviting them to
continue and strengthen their dialogue, but reaffirming that, for
Christians, Jesus Christ is the Son of God made human, and rejecting
“unacceptable” discrimination against believers.

Final statement: www.zenit.org/article-24175?l=english

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International
is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran
World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the
Conference of European Churches.]