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‘A Common Word’ in the News

Pope Benedict: Muslims and Christians must cultivate reason in ‘faith and truth’

On Saturday Pope Benedict XVI spoke to Jordanian leaders at the
Al-Hussein Bin Talal Mosque in Amman. Following themes prominent in his
2006 Regensburg Address on the relationship between faith and reason,
he said both Muslims and Christians face the challenge of cultivating
human reason in the context of faith.

As an illustration in the Regensburg Address, Pope Benedict had
quoted a Byzantine emperor’s negative comments about Mohammed and
Islam. Reporting on those comments generated controversy and even
violence in some parts of the Muslim world.

Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammed Bin Talal delivered remarks prior to Pope
Benedict’s speech, noting that the noonday event marked the first time
in history that a Pope has visited a new mosque.

The Prince added that Muslims appreciated the Vatican’s
clarification that the emperor’s words were merely part of a quotation
and did not reflect the Pontiff’s personal belief.

After the warm and welcoming speech by the Prince, Pope Benedict
began his speech by saying it was “a source of great joy” to meet with
the Prince and other distinguished persons. He said the Prince’s
numerous inter-religious and inter-cultural initiatives were
appreciated by the people of Jordan and the international community.

“I know that these efforts receive the active support of other
members of the Royal Family as well as the nation’s government, and
find ample resonance in the many initiatives of collaboration among
Jordanians,” the Pope continued. “For all this, I wish to express my
own heartfelt admiration.”

The challenge for Muslims and Christians, Pope Benedict said, is to
cultivate the “vast potential of human reason” in the context of “faith
and truth.”

“Christians in fact describe God, among other ways, as creative
Reason, which orders and guides the world. And God endows us with the
capacity to participate in his reason and thus to act in accordance
with what is good,” he explained.

“Muslims worship God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who has
spoken to humanity. And as believers in the one God, we know that human
reason is itself God’s gift and that it soars to its highest plane when
suffused with the light of God’s truth,” Pope Benedict continued. “In
fact, when human reason humbly allows itself to be purified by faith,
it is far from weakened; rather, it is strengthened to resist
presumption and to reach beyond its own limitations.”

This practice “emboldens” human reason and extends, rather than
confining or manipulating public debate, the Pope commented. Genuine
adherence to religion protects civil society from “the excesses of the
unbridled ego which tend to absolutize the finite and eclipse the
infinite,” it ensures that freedom accompanies truth, and it “adorns
culture with insights concerning all that is true, good and beautiful.”

This understanding of reason reminds Christians and Muslims that
human rights hold equally for every man and woman “irrespective of his
or her religious, social or ethnic group.”

“In this regard, we must note that the right of religious freedom
extends beyond the question of worship and includes the right –
especially of minorities – to fair access to the employment market and
other spheres of civic life.”

He also addressed the views of those who assert that religions fail
to build unity and harmony and who see religion as an inherent cause of
division whose place in the “public sphere” must be minimized.

“Certainly, the contradiction of tensions and divisions between the
followers of different religious traditions, sadly, cannot be denied.
However, is it not also the case that often it is the ideological
manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends, that is the
real catalyst for tension and division, and at times even violence in

In a situation where opponents of religion seek not only to silence
it but to replace its voice with their own,“the need for believers to
be true to their principles and beliefs is felt all the more keenly,”
he said.

“Muslims and Christians, precisely because of the burden of our
common history so often marked by misunderstanding, must today strive
to be known and recognized as worshippers of God faithful to prayer,
eager to uphold and live by the Almighty’s decrees, merciful and
compassionate, consistent in bearing witness to all that is true and
good, and ever mindful of the common origin and dignity of all human
persons, who remain at the apex of God’s creative design for the world
and for history,” Pope Benedict insisted.

He then praised Jordanian leaders’ efforts to ensure the public face of religion reflects its “true nature.”

As examples of this work, he listed his Friday visit to the Our Lady
of Peace Center, where Christians and Muslims assist and educate
disabled children, and also Madaba University, where Muslim and
Christian adults are educated side by side.

These initiatives should prompt Christians and Muslims to probe
“even more deeply” the “essential relationship” between God and His
world to ensure that society “resonates in harmony with the divine
order,” he exhorted.

Pope Benedict also acknowledged “in a special way” the presence of the Patriarch of Baghdad Emmanuel III Delly.

“The international community’s efforts to promote peace and
reconciliation, together with those of the local leaders, must continue
in order to bear fruit in the lives of Iraqis,” he said, expressing
appreciation for those rebuilding Iraq.

“I urge diplomats and the international community they represent,
together with local political and religious leaders, to do everything
possible to ensure [for] the ancient Christian community of that noble
land its fundamental right to peaceful coexistence with their fellow
citizens,” he continued.

The Pope closed by saying he trusted his comments would create “renewed hope for the future.”

“May reason, ennobled and humbled by the grandeur of God’s truth,
continue to shape the life and institutions of this nation, in order
that families may flourish and that all may live in peace, contributing
to and drawing upon the culture that unifies this great Kingdom!”

At a press conference following Pope Benedict’s appearance at the
mosque, Vatican spokesman Fr. Frederico Lombardi again addressed the
controversy over the Regensburg Speech.

Saying the Pope has delivered many speeches of relevance to
Muslim-Christian dialogue since the “misunderstanding,” Fr. Lombardi
commented that those who were able to receive the explanation now
understand it while those who don’t “will not understand it.”

Dialogue between Muslims and the Vatican is “going on very well,” he reported.

Fr. Lombardi also responded to a question about whether Pope
Benedict had taken off his shoes at the mosque, in accordance with
Muslim custom.

He said the Pope had not removed his shoes because the Muslims
organized a way to avoid this situation by laying down a carpet from
the mosque entrance to the lecture hall.

“But everyone was ready to take their shoes off,” he said.