VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Catholic and Muslim leaders at unprecedented Vatican meetings vowed on Thursday to work together to combat violence and terrorism, especially when carried out in God’s name.
At the end of three days of meetings, the 58 scholars and leaders — 29 from each side — issued a 15-point final joint declaration which also included an appeal for the defence of minority religions.
The meetings came two years after the pope gave a speech hinting Islam was violent and irrational, sparking angry protests in the Middle East. The Muslims formed their group to refute that speech and seek better mutual understanding.
“We profess that Catholics and Muslims are called to be instruments of love and harmony among believers, and for humanity as a whole, renouncing any oppression, aggressive violence and terrorism, especially that committed in the name of religion, and upholding the principle of justice for all,” the declaration said.
It also called for respect for religious minorities, adding that they should be “entitled to their own places of worship, and their founding figures and symbols they consider sacred should not be subjected to any form of mockery or ridicule”.
The Vatican has long called for religious freedom for minority Christians in places such as Saudi Arabia and for an end to violence against Christians in Iraq.
The declaration’s words about avoiding mockery or ridicule appeared to be a reference to events in 2006, when a Danish newspaper printed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, sparking violent protests in the Islamic world.
Earlier in the day, Pope Benedict said Muslims and Christians shared moral values and should defend them together.
“There is a great and vast field in which we can act together in defending and promoting the moral values which are part of our common heritage,” the German-born pope said.
“We should thus work together in promoting genuine respect for the dignity of the human person and fundamental human rights, even though our anthropological visions and our theologies justify this in different ways.”
The Vatican has also participated in interfaith talks launched this year by Saudi Arabian King Abdullah, who will meet at the United Nations in New York next week with other heads of state to further promote his initiative.
These and other dialogues reflect a new urgency Muslim leaders have felt after the Sept. 11 attacks, the “clash of civilisations” theory and the pope’s 2006 speech in Regensburg showed a widening gap between the world’s two largest faiths.
Benedict said the Catholic-Muslim Forum, the official name for this dialogue now set to take place every two years, was “now confidently taking its first steps”.