VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Professing faith in one God, the creator of all humanity, obliges Catholics and Muslims to respect one another and to work together to defend human rights and help those who are suffering, Pope Benedict XVI said.
The commandments of love of God and love of neighbor are at “the heart of Islam and Christianity alike” and always go together, the pope told members of the Catholic-Muslim Forum.
The pope met forum members — 28 Catholic and 28 Muslim representatives — at the end of their Nov. 4-6 meeting at the Vatican.
After 138 Muslim scholars from around the world wrote to Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders in October 2007 proposing a new level of Christian-Muslim dialogue, the Vatican and the scholars established the Catholic-Muslim Forum.
The scholars’ 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.
Meeting forum participants, Pope Benedict said the chosen theme “highlights even more clearly the theological and spiritual foundations of a central teaching of our respective religions.”
“The Christian tradition proclaims that God is love,” the pope told them. God created the universe out of love, and motivated by love he became human in Jesus Christ, handing himself over to death “in order to restore full dignity to each person and to bring us salvation.”
As people who recognize the one God, he said, “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 history.”
Love for God and neighbor, he said, 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 one’s faith — are guaranteed.
Some Muslim members of the forum had told the group Nov. 4-5 that Catholic leaders must recognize that most times the limitation of human rights is a decision made by political leaders, not religious leaders.
But, the pope said, 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.”
“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,” the pope said.
Speaking on behalf of the group, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a leading Muslim philosopher and professor at George Washington University in Washington, told the pope that both Christians and Muslims have violence in their past, especially from periods when religious and political power collaborated closely.
“Certainly we cannot claim that violence is the monopoly of only one religion,” he said.
But, he said, the scholars wrote to the pope and came to the Vatican “to extend to you our hand of friendship, seeking to meet you in God’s love, beyond all our theological differences and memories of historical confrontations.”
As leaders of the two largest religions in the world, he said, Catholic and Muslim clerics and scholars must strengthen their followers’ understanding that peace is God’s will.
Mustafa Ceric, the grand mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina, told Pope Benedict 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 told the pope, “Love is strengthened by working to overcome conflicts together.”
In his address, Pope Benedict also expressed his hope that participants in the dialogue would work to ensure that the fraternity and agreement experienced at the meeting would be “passed on as a precious legacy” to their faithful, so that it would “bear fruit in the way we live each day.”
During the 40-minute papal audience, no one mentioned the pope’s 2006 speech at the University of Regensburg, Germany, in which he used a negative quote about violence in Islam.
But the pope told the scholars, “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.”