1st Catholic-Muslim Forum

VATICAN CITY – TWO years after Pope Benedict XVI sparked controversy during a speech on Islam in Bavaria, the Vatican prepares to host the first Catholic-Muslim forum to improve dialogue between the two religions.

Around 50 Catholic and Muslim figures will participate in a private three-day seminar entitled Love of God, Love of Neighbour, that includes women from both faiths according to the Catholic News Service (CNS).

The forum’s schedule has not been made public, but the participants will examine the positions of the Roman Catholic Church and Islam on spiritual love and charity and issues of ‘human dignity’ and ‘mutual respect’, CNS reported.

The pope is expected to give a speech before the seminar ends on Thursday, during which he may attempt to draw a line under controversial remarks he made in 2006.

The pope caused a stir when he quoted a Byzantine emperor who equated Islam with violence in a speech at Regensburg University.

In using the quotation, the pope was perceived in Islamic circles as seeking to establish a link between Islam and violence and to cast doubt on relations between the Islamic faith and reason.

Pope Benedict XVI later apologised by claiming that he had been misunderstood.

In March a permanent channel of communication was set up between the two faiths at the request of 138 Muslim scholars seeking to reduce tensions between Islam and the West.

During that month the Vatican also published figures that said that Muslims outnumbered Catholics worldwide.

Basing its report on 2006 figures, it said Muslims represent more than 19 per cent of the world’s 6.5 billion population while Catholics represent 17.4 per cent. — AFP