Feature – Catholic-Muslim dialogue flourishes despite rocky start

Five years after Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg address that ignited protests around the Islamic world, the Catholic-Muslim Forum established to improve interfaith relations has said that what began as formal dialogue has become increasingly characterised by friendship, reports the Tablet.

The forum, which grew out of Muslim dissatisfaction with comments in Pope Benedict’s 2006 Regensburg speech, held its second round of theological consultations in Jordan last week.

The fate of Middle Eastern Christian minorities amid the Arab Spring’s Islamist renaissance provided a sombre background to the meeting, much as perceived Christian misunderstandings about Islam preceded the first session of the forum at the Vatican in November 2008.

But increasing contacts between Catholic officials and Muslim scholars of the Common Word initiative, the 2007 Islamic dialogue appeal to Pope Benedict, have created bonds that helped both sides tackle sensitive issues.

“We have realised that we have a common heritage,” Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, said at the conference, held on the east bank of the Jordan River near where Jesus is believed to have been baptised.

“We have passed from formal dialogue to a dialogue between friends.” Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, who heads the Common Word group and hosted the meeting, recalled the initial strains and said: “Since then, despite some misunderstandings, I dare say the general Muslim-Catholic ambience has ameliorated considerably.”

During the November 21-23 forum, 24 Catholic and 24 Muslim religious leaders, scholars and educators meeting here debated how each religion combines faith and reason – the core message of the Regensburg speech that was drowned out by protests over Pope Benedict’s use of a Byzantine emperor’s quote calling Islam irrational and violent.