VATICAN CITY (AFP) — Pope Benedict XVI has invited senior Muslim figures, who signed an appeal for greater dialogue between religions, to a meeting at the Vatican, in a letter released Thursday.
The pope praised the “positive spirit” behind the October 11 message signed by 138 top Muslims from around the world and sent to Christian leaders, said Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone in the letter sent in Pope Benedict’s name.
The pope wanted to meet a representative group of the signatories at the Vatican, he added in the letter sent to Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, head of the Institute for Islamic Thought in Amman.
“The Pope has asked me to convey his gratitude to Your Royal Highness and to all who signed the letter,” Bertone wrote.
“He also wishes to express his deep appreciation for this gesture, for the positive spirit which inspired the text and for the call for a common commitment to promoting peace in the world.
“Without ignoring or downplaying our differences as Christians and Muslims, we can and therefore should look to what unites us, namely, belief in the one God, the provident Creator and universal Judge who at the end of time will deal with each person according to his or her actions. We are all called to commit ourselves totally to him and to obey his sacred will.”
The Muslims’ message, which has since been signed by other personalities underlines, that both the Koran and the Bible are calling for the love of God and mankind.
The pope’s reply said that Benedict “was particularly impressed by the attention given (by the Muslims) to the twofold commandment to love God and one’s neighbour.”
It recalled the pope’s statement in August 2005 soon after he took office that “we must not yield to the negative pressures in our midst, but must affirm the values of mutual respect, solidarity and peace.
“The life of every human being is sacred, both for Christians and for Muslims. There is plenty of scope for us to act together in the service of fundamental moral values.”
“Such common ground allows us to base dialogue on effective respect for the dignity of every human person, on objective knowledge of the religion of the other, on the sharing of religious experience and, finally, on common commitment to promoting mutual respect and acceptance among the younger generation,” the letter went on.
“The Pope is confident that, once this is achieved, it will be possible to cooperate in a productive way in the areas of culture and society, and for the promotion of justice and peace in society and throughout the world.”
Bertone said that with a view to encouraging the “praiseworthy initiative” from the Muslim leaders, “His Holiness would be most willing to receive Your Royal Highness and a restricted group of signatories of the open letter, chosen by you.
“At the same time, a working meeting could be organized between your delegation and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, with the cooperation of some specialized Pontifical Institutes (such as the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies and the Pontifical Gregorian University).”
The precise details of these meetings could be decided later, should this proposal prove acceptable, the letter said.
The initiative was launched a year after Benedict’s controversial Regensburg lecture during a visit to Germany, which was seen by some as a political point about Islam and violence and by others as a simple lesson in theology meant to inspire reflection.
The address to academics entitled “Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections” explored the historical and philosophical differences between Islam and Christianity, and the relationship between violence and faith.
His remarks sparked outrage in the Muslim world where they were seen as linking Islam with violence.
Cardinals who had gathered around the pope last week for a special meeting said that the Muslims’ letter was “an encouraging sign” for dialogue.
Italian Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolica which is close to the Vatican on Thursday saw a “fundamental convergence between Christians and Muslims” in “Never before has such a thing happened in the history of relations between Muslims and Christians,” Christian W. Troll, who contributed the comment to the magazine, wrote.