VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – There are now so many efforts to improve
relations between Christians and Muslims that they risk overlapping and
creating confusion, the Vatican’s top official for interfaith contacts
Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious
Dialogue, said a conference between Catholics and Muslims last week was
a fresh bid for mutual understanding that could become a “favoured
channel” for the Vatican.
But there is now so much interest in
Christian-Muslim dialogue that it is getting hard to see where it is
going, said Tauran, who was preparing to fly to New York for United
Nations talks linked to another drive led by Saudi King Abdullah.
my opinion, there are too many Christian-Muslim initiatives.
Everybody’s doing it,” he told Reuters in an interview. “One doesn’t
know where this will go. That proves there is a great interest, but it
sows a bit of confusion.
“There’s a risk of overlapping… It may be the price to pay for all this interest that interreligious dialogue incites.”
between Christians and Muslims is nothing new, but the Sept. 11 attacks
and sharpened tensions between western and Muslim states have given it
a new urgency and sparked concern about a growing gap between the
world’s two largest religions.
A Common Word, an informal group
of religious leaders and scholars across the Muslim world, gave
interfaith dialogue a new impetus last year by inviting Christians to
examine how both faiths have shared core principles of loving God and
On Nov 4-6, a Common Word delegation held an
unprecedented meeting at the Vatican called the Catholic-Muslim Forum,
a bilateral exchange due to be held every two years.
NO COORDINATION POSSIBLE
noted the Vatican had several established dialogues with Muslims,
including with the leading Sunni university Al-Azhar in Cairo, with
Shi’ites in Iran and with the World Islamic Call Society in Libya.
next two largest Christian families after Catholics, the Orthodox and
the Anglicans, also had their own dialogues, he noted. A broad spectrum
of churches recently met near Geneva to try to get an overview of how
each is interacting with Islam.
Asked if Christian churches
could coordinate their efforts, Tauran shook his head and said, “It’s
like in Islam. There is no single voice. For the moment, it’s not
The French-born cardinal praised the Common Word
group for trying to represent a broad consensus in the fractious Muslim
world. When they met Pope Benedict on Thursday, for example, they had
both a Sunni and a Shi’ite address him.
“There is a desire to
represent the Islamic world,” he said. “It is broader than others. It
could even become a favoured channel” of contact with the Vatican.
Tauran said he was most struck by the openness and mutual respect that prevailed despite clearly stated differences.
issues such as conversion and minority religious rights in Muslim
countries were not discussed in detail, he said, but could be tackled
at later meetings. “What’s important is that this continues,” he said.
Abdullah’s campaign has taken a different direction, with a broad
interfaith conference in Madrid last July and a United Nations meeting
on “the culture of peace” in New York on Wednesday and Thursday.
have to differentiate between these meetings,” Tauran said. Madrid
assembled faith leaders to talk about religion while the United Nations
can only focus on member states’ respect for their commitment to
protect freedom of religion.
But he praised Abdullah for
promoting his dialogue, which included Jews, Hindus and Buddhists. “The
king of Saudi Arabia is very courageous because there is a lot of
opposition from the religious leaders in his country,” he said.
Copyright © 2008 Reuters