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‘A Common Word’ in the News

Pope affirms Golden Rule of Islam, Christianity

VATICAN CITY: Catholics and Muslims must show the common belief that
we are members of one family loved by God our Creator, and uphold
the dignity of every human person, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope affirmed this today when he received in
audience the members of the newly formed Catholic-Muslim Forum at
the conclusion of its three-day seminar. The forum is comprised of
29 members of each creed and was formed 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 in October 2007.

After greeting the participants of the forum,
the Holy Father assured them of his prayerful attention to the
progress of the seminar. He expressed the awareness “that it
represents one more step along the way toward greater understanding
between Muslims and Christians within the framework of other regular
encounters which the Holy See promotes with various Muslim

He acknowledged the recent increase in dialogue,
initiatives and meetings between Catholic and Muslim groups and
expressed the hope that the present seminar will motivate all
involved to pass on its positive reflections on love to all people
in order to effectively change their daily lives.

God and neighbor

“The theme which you have chosen for your
meeting—“Love of God, Love of Neighbor: The Dignity of the Human
Person and Mutual Respect”—is particularly significant,” said
Benedict XVI. “It was taken from the [Muslims’] open letter,
which presents love of God and love of neighbor as the heart of
Islam and Christianity alike. This theme highlights even more
clearly the theological and spiritual foundations of a central
teaching of our respective religions.”

The Pope further distinguished the Christian
understanding of love of God and neighbor, and noted that the
foundation of Christian love is the recognition that “God is
Love” and that this “infinite and eternal love enables us to
respond by giving all our love in return.”

He added: “It was out of love that he created
the whole universe, and by his love he becomes present in human
history. The love of God became visible, manifested fully and
definitively in Jesus Christ. He thus came down to meet man and,
while remaining God, took on our nature. He gave himself in order to
restore full dignity to each person and to bring us salvation.

“How could we ever explain the mystery of the
incarnation and the redemption except by Love? Our calling and
mission is to share freely with others the love which God lavishes
upon us without any merit of our own.”

Recognizing commonalities

The Holy Father noted the fact that “Muslims
and Christians have different approaches in matters regarding
God.” Yet in light of the common position on the need to worship
God as Creator, he exhorted both sides: “Together we must show, by
our mutual respect and solidarity, that we consider ourselves
members of one family: the family that God has loved and gathered
together from the creation of the world to the end of human

The other common position that the Pope stressed
was the need “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.” For Christians, he continued, this love of neighbor is
inseparable from the love of God, and is the proof of its

“The Muslim tradition is also quite clear in
encouraging practical commitment in serving the most needy, and
readily recalls the ‘Golden Rule’ in its own version: your faith
will not be perfect, unless you do unto others that which you wish
for yourselves,” he affirmed.

A peaceful future

The Pontiff called for the “recognition of the
centrality of the person and the dignity of each human being,
respecting and defending life, which is the gift of God, and is thus
sacred for Christians and for Muslims alike” as the starting point
for more peaceful worldwide relations.

Benedict XVI encouraged those present to protect
the rights of all people everywhere: “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.

“The discrimination and violence which even
today religious people experience throughout the world, and the
often violent persecutions to which they are subject, represent
unacceptable and unjustifiable acts, all the more grave and
deplorable when they are carried out in the name of God.”

He challenged both sides to testify in word and
deed to the authenticity of their religion’s dedication to peace
and mutual understanding. “It is essential that we do so,” the
Pope said, “lest we weaken the credibility and the effectiveness
not only of our dialogue, but also of our religions themselves.”

With a hopeful expression for the continued work
of the “Catholic-Muslim Forum,” the Bishop of Rome entrusted the
success of its mission to God and encouraged its members: “Dear
friends, 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; let us work with one
another to educate all people, especially the young, to build a
common future.”

The Philippine representative to the Forum, lead
convenor of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy Amina
Rasul, presented a letter to the Holy Father voicing the call of
Filipino Muslims for his help in bringing peace to conflict-ridden
and often war-torn areas of Mindanao.

Source of harmony

The forum participants declared their agreement
that youth must be formed in their own religious traditions and
correctly educated about other religions, to give witness to
transcendent values in a secular society.

The final statement of the forum reflected many
points of similarity between the two creeds as well as resolutions
for positive action to build solidarity and peace between the two.

Foundation of love

The forum recognized the specific focus of
Christian love: “The source and example of love of God and
neighbor is the love of Christ for his Father, for humanity and for
each person. God is Love and God so loved the world that he gave his
only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have
eternal life. God’s love is placed in the human heart through the
Holy Spirit. It is God who first loves us thereby enabling us to
love him in return.”

They continued with a summary of how love for
one’s neighbor in word and deed follows necessarily from the
Christian’s love for God. This love imitates Christ’s
sacrificial love, and includes every human person, even enemies.

Turning to the Muslim perspective on love, the
declaration affirmed: “Love is a timeless transcendent power which
guides and transforms human mutual regard. This love, as indicated
by the holy and beloved Prophet Muhammad, is prior to the human love
for the one true God. […] God’s loving compassion for humanity
is even greater than that of a mother for her child; it therefore
exists before and independently of the human response to the One who
is ‘The Loving.’”

In regard to love of neighbor, the statement
added some Muslim beliefs similar to those of Christians: “Those
that believe, and do good works, the Merciful shall engender love
among them. […] Not one of you has faith until he loves for his
neighbor what he loves for himself.”

Given these common foundations of love for God
and neighbor, participants in the seminar recognized the gift of
human life and the need to protect it. They asserted the belief that
human dignity is based on each person’s creation “by a loving
God out of love.” Thus every person deserves recognition of “his
or her identity and freedom by individuals, communities and
governments, supported by civil legislation that assures equal
rights and full citizenship.”

The declaration acknowledged God’s creation of
human personas as male and female, and noted the commitment of the
forum to ensure “that human dignity and respect are extended on an
equal basis to both men and women.”

Religious differences

Members of the forum wrote that love of neighbor
includes respect for each person’s choices regarding religion.
They affirmed that religious minorities are to be respected and that
sacred figures, symbols and places should not be ridiculed.

They acknowledged: “As Catholic and Muslim
believers, we are aware of the summons and imperative to bear
witness to the transcendent dimension of life, through a
spirituality nourished by prayer, in a world which is becoming more
and more secularized and materialistic. […]

“We are convinced that Catholics and Muslims
have the duty to provide a sound education in human, civic,
religious and moral values for their respective members and to
promote accurate information about each other’s religions.”

A source of peace

Seminar participants recognized that plurality
in God’s creation is a richness and should not be a source of
conflict. They professed the belief that “Catholics and Muslims
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.”