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‘A Common Word’ in the News

‘Love of God, love of neighbor’ dialod

Earlier this month a rather historic gathering of
Roman Catholic and Muslim leaders took place at the Vatican. It was the
first meeting of the newly formed Catholic-Muslim Forum. The Forum
participants, 28 Muslim and 28 Catholic representatives, met at the
Vatican Nov. 4-6 to discuss the first topic of their newly established
dialogue, “Love of God, Love of Neighbor.” The group was chosen by the
Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the 138 Muslim
leaders who sent an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI and other
Christian leaders last October. Members of the forum expressed that
Muslims and Christians must work together to protect religious freedom
and learn more about one another’s faith so that they may more
effectively witness to the world the reality of God.

“We are challenged to demonstrate, by our words
and above all by our deeds, that the message of our religions is
unfailingly a message of harmony and mutual understanding. It is
essential that we do so, lest we weaken the credibility and the
effectiveness not only of our dialogue, but also of our religions
themselves,” said Pope Benedict in his address to the forum at its
concluding session. He added that we often face a world beset by
“discrimination and violence, which today religious people experience,”
these persecutions, “represent unacceptable and unjustifiable acts, all
the more grave and deplorable when they are carried out in the name of

The meeting was inspired by the “Letter” 138
Muslim scholars wrote to Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders
proposing a new level of Christian-Muslim dialogue. The “Letter”
presented the dual commandment of love of God and love of neighbor as a
“common word” of Islam and Christianity and as a possible topic for a
dialogue that would go deeper than discussing traditional moral, social
and cultural values by focusing on theological and spiritual
similarities and differences.

In discussing the Forum, the Holy Father said that
he is well aware that there are “different approaches” in matters
regarding God from a Christian and Muslim vantage. He drove home his
point by explaining that the Incarnation, God becoming man, is a
central tenet in the Christian faith that is not acceptable by Muslims.
The Incarnation, the pope explained, is a sign of God’s “infinite and
eternal love” for us and is what inspires Christians to love others as
brothers and sisters.

Love for God and neighbor explained Pope Benedict,
also requires believers to respect the dignity of each person and to
work together to ensure that each person’s rights, especially the right
to freely profess and practice their faith is guaranteed. In response,
some of the Muslim participants called upon Catholic leaders to
recognize that most times the limitation of human rights is a decision
made by political leaders, not religious leaders. Pope Benedict
responded that both “political and religious leaders have the duty of
ensuring the free exercise of these rights in full respect for each
individual’s freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.”

Mustafa Ceric, the grand mufti of
Bosnia-Herzegovina, responded to the pope’s remarks by saying that
dialogue is the key not only to justice and peace, but also to
countering exaggerated forms of secularism that have led to “wealth
without effort, pleasure without conscience, education without
morality, business without ethics, politics without principles, science
without responsibility, faith without sacrifice and religion without
compassion.” The mufti said to the pope, “Love is strengthened by
working to overcome conflicts together.”

In conclusion, Pope Benedict challenged the
scholars and all Christian and Muslim believers, “Let us unite our
efforts, animated by good will, in order to overcome all
misunderstanding and disagreements. Let us resolve to overcome past
prejudices and to correct the often distorted images of the other which
even today can create difficulties in our relations.” The Forum ended
with an appeal on the “need to worship God totally and to love our
fellow men and women disinterestedly, especially those in distress and
need. God calls us to work together on behalf of the victims of
disease, hunger, poverty, injustice and violence.”