VATICAN CITY, NOV. 4, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The first seminar organized by the newly established Catholic-Muslim Forum began today on the theme “Love of God, Love of Neighbor.”
The group, with 29 representatives per creed, was established by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and representatives of the 138 Muslim leaders who sent an open letter to Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders last October.
According to the Vatican press office, the panel will consider the seminar theme from two main angles: “theological and spiritual fundamentals” and “the dignity of the human person and mutual respect.”
The Pope will address the participants Thursday. That afternoon during a public meeting, the forum will present a final joint declaration.
Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told Vatican Radio on Monday that the seminar seeks “to see which elements we share, because together we can give a coherent response of love for God, seeking to love each other.”
The forum was created in the context of the October 2007 open letter from 138 Muslim intellectuals, which was itself a response to misunderstandings that arose from the Pope’s 2006 address at Regensburg.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Pontiff’s secretary of state, responded to the Muslims’ letter the month after it was written.
This increasing contact has brought concrete results, such as the Catholic-Muslim meeting in March of this year, during which it was decided to create the forum and where the meeting that began today was organized.
Regarding these events, Archbishop Celata explained that “certain walls have fallen; dialogue at the thematic level has developed to confront discussions sometimes perhaps not immediately welcomed according to traditional sensitivities, but that today find willingness and openness, as much from one side as from the other.”
Call from the synod
The world Synod of Bishops that ended Oct. 26 also encouraged an increase of Catholic-Muslim dialogue.
The synod fathers wrote that dialogue with Muslims “enables knowing each other better and collaborating in the promotion of ethical and spiritual values.”
The assembly emphasized the importance of “respect for life, the rights of men and women, as well as the distinction between the sociopolitical sphere and the religious sphere in the promotion of justice and peace in the world.”
“An important theme in this dialogue would be as well reciprocity and the freedom of conscience and religion,” they added, encouraging that national bishops’ conferences “promote circles of dialogue between Christians and Muslims.”