Pope Benedict has invited leading Islamic authorities to discuss a letter they sent to Christian leaders last month urging a search for common moral ground.
The pontiff’s formal reaction was made public yesterday as the Vatican published his latest encyclical, in which he said atheism had “led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice”.
Replying to Prince Ghazi of Jordan, who arranged for the letter to be sent to the Pope, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said Benedict felt deep appreciation for the initiative, “for the positive spirit which inspired the text and for the call for a common commitment to promoting peace”.
The original letter, signed by 138 Muslim religious authorities, had invited Christian representatives “to come together with us on the common essentials of our two religions”, and warned that the survival of the world could be at stake if they failed.
When the Vatican did not immediately respond, there were fears it might not wish to take part. But Bertone assured the prince that “we can and therefore should look to what unites us”.
He said the Pope had been “particularly impressed by the attention given in the letter to the twofold commandment to love God and one’s neighbour”. He proposed a joint working group that would include officials from the Vatican department for inter-religious dialogue.
The Pope’s second encyclical dealt primarily with the Christian understanding of hope. But some passages appeared to be directed at the readers of such bestsellers as Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great. Benedict acknowledged that atheism had begun as a “type of moralism”, rooted in the idea that a good God could not have made such an unjust world. But he said a “world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope”.