Pope To Host Muslim 'Summit'

Source: SBS staff and agencies

The Pope is to host a groundbreaking ’summit’ of Muslim and Catholic leaders and scholars as part of a push for dialogue between the religions.

Pope Benedict XVI’s ‘Catholic-Muslim Forum’, to be held in Rome in early November, will bring together 24 dignitaries from each faith for discussions on the theme of ‘love God, love your neighbour’.

Church officials have said such a papal audience would be “historic”.

The Vatican is eager to improve relations with moderate Islam, after a speech by Benedict in 2006 about Islam and violence angered many in the Muslim world.

Catholic-Muslim dialogue

The conference will take place just over a year after 138 Muslim leaders from various sects from 43 countries issued an open letter to Christian churches urging peace and dialogue.

That letter has now been endorsed by 241 signatories – representatives of whom were at the Vatican on Wednesday for talks ahead of the summit.

Aref Ali Nayed, director of the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan, said the aim of the forum, which will be held every year, is to ensure that Vatican-Muslim dialogue is “not a momentary exciting moment but a process”.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone has underlined the pontiff’s “complete willingness” to meet with Muslim leaders “to see what unites us, without minimising or ignoring our differences.”

But the Catholic Church remains reluctant to engage in a profound theological debate with Islam without first clarifying issues such as religious freedom for Christians in Muslim countries.

Religious freedom

In a 2006 speech in Germany, Benedict cited a Medieval text that characterised some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as “evil and inhuman”, particularly “his command to spread by the sword the faith”.

The Pope later said he was “deeply sorry” about the reactions his remarks sparked and stressed that they did not reflect his own opinions.

Asked about the wounds caused by the speech, Mr Nayed said that “for some Muslims, it is not completely healed”, adding that Catholic-Muslim dialogue was part of the healing process.

“I personally believe it [the speech] was a huge mistake,” he said. Still, he added: “I do believe that the Vatican takes Islam seriously.”

Source: SBS staff and agencies

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