The first Catholic-Islamic Forum, which ended two days ago in the Vatican, issued a statement condemning persecution, violence and all forms of terrorism, particularly terrorism in the name of religion.
The statement highlights the importance of freedom of beliefs and calls for mutual commitment to create a fairer world, which respects people’s right to practice their religions in private and public. It also stresses the warm spirit that dominated the closed-door talks around religious, social and moral issues.
Addressing 85 participants from several countries, Pope Benedict XVI praised the meeting and described it as “one more step along the way towards greater understanding between Muslims and Christians”.
He said the Catholic-Islamic Forum was the official name of this meeting and that it would be held every two years. He called on Muslims to join Christians in defending joint moral values and human rights.
The pope met with the participants in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, used for grand occasions. He expressed hope the meeting would be an occasion to have dialog and walk toward the truth.
The Muslim Italian delegate Yahya Pallavicini said talks were marked by “rare frankness” compared to any other meetings between different religions.
French Catholic Professor Joseph Maila said sensitive words such as “Islamophobia” were discussed.
Muslim American Professor Sayed Hassan Nasr, warned of aggressive proselytism in the name of freedom.
Participants called for an ethical financial system in which regulatory mechanisms consider the situation of poor and deprived people and of indebted nations.
Overcoming differences, Tariq Ramadam, Swiss born scholar, and Grand Bosnian Mufti and delegation head, Mustafa Ceric, spoke in repeated statements to the press, also in the overflowing “public session” at the Gregorian University in which the common declaration was read which closed the Forum, composted of about 30 delegates per side.
I pledge to “explore the possibility of stabilising a permanent Catholic-Muslim committee to coordinate responses to conflicts and other emergency situations” and to meet every two years in a Muslim majority country on the major points of the Declaration.
The text declared the necessity to act on the world of finance to make it more ethical and on the education of children to make them aware of their religious identity and open to others, besides confirming the defence of live and rights as meeting points.
Other points agreed upon: human, for Catholics and Muslim means “male and female”; religious minorities should be protected and respected; together they must work for spirituality in a “secular and materialistic” world.
And mainly: “Catholics and Muslims are called to be an instrument of love and harmony between believers and all of humanity, renouncing oppression, aggressive violence, and terrorism”. In the cordial hearing in the Clementine Hall, at the end of which, he stopped to shake hands and exchange comments with the delegates, Pope Ratzinger stated what he expects from this Forum: even starting from different anthropological and theological visions, “just participating in the recognition of the centrality of the person and the dignity of each human being, respecting and promoting life”, “we can find common ground” for a “world in which differences are pacifically faced, and the devastating power of ideologies are neutralised”.
“Persecutions are even more unacceptable and deplorable if they are done in the name of God”. And finally; “we unite our forces to overcome all misunderstandings and disagreements. We resolve to overcome past prejudices and to correct often distorted images of others that also create difficulty in our relations; we will work to educate everyone, especially children, to build a common future”. And we will not limit dialogue “to a group of experts” but we will do it “to benefit everyone”.
The forum, which focused on the issue of love for God and the Other, is not the only body interested in Muslim-Catholic dialog. But it is the first to be held in the Vatican and to combine such a big number of clergymen and Muslim intellectuals from around the world who belong to different schools and who confirmed they have no political inclination.
The forum came after Pope Benedict XVI sent an open message in October 2007 to 138 Muslim scholars and popes of other Christian churches to invite them to an open dialog.
The catholic delegation included Vatican officials, Catholic researchers in Islam and bishops heading minorities in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Gulf countries.
The Islamic side was represented by an independent union of Muslim thinkers and scholars from the Middle East, Africa, Asia and some western countries.
Benedict XVI also welcomed the new Egyptian Ambassador to the Vatican, Lamia Ali Hamada Mekhemar.