Inaugural Catholic-Muslim Dialogue Affirms Freedom Of Belief

The first meeting at the Vatican of a Roman Catholic-Muslim Forum has affirmed the right of individuals and communities to practise their religion in private and in public, while also rejecting terrorism in the name of religion – writes Luigi Sandri.

“Genuine love of neighbour implies respect of the person and her or his choices in matters of conscience and religion,” the 48 Catholic and Muslim scholars and leaders at the meeting stated in their final declaration released on 6 November after two days of discussions.

Catholics and Muslims, they stated, “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”. Participants also noted, “We commit ourselves jointly to ensuring that human dignity and respect are extended on an equal basis to both men and women.”

The seminar was made up of 24 Catholics, chosen by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and by 24 signatories of an open letter from 2007 by Muslim scholars to Christian leaders, called “A Common Word”. Five advisors from each faith also took part in the meetings.

They met from 4 to 6 November 2008 to discuss the theme “Love of God, Love of Neighbour”.

The “Common Word” statement was sent to Pope Benedict XVI and to other Christian leaders, including the Rev. Samuel Kobia, head of the World Council of Churches. It said that world peace depends on cooperation between Christianity and Islam.

This month’s Vatican meeting came two years after a speech by Pope Benedict in Germany in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor who linked Islam and violence. The speech caused a furore in many parts of the Muslim world and the Pope stated afterwards that the words in his speech ascribed to the emperor did not represent his own views.

The Vatican and Muslim leaders later agreed to create the forum.

“As Catholic and Muslim believers, we are aware of the summons and imperative to bear witness and to the transcendent dimension of life, through a spirituality nourished by prayer, in a world which is becoming more and more secularised and materialistic,” seminar participants stated.

They agreed to explore the possibility “of establishing a permanent Catholic-Muslim committee to coordinate responses to conflicts and other emergency situations”, and to organise a second seminar “in a Muslim-majority country yet to be determined”.

Pope Benedict received participants to the forum, inviting them to continue and strengthen their dialogue, but reaffirming that, for Christians, Jesus Christ is the Son of God made human, and rejecting “unacceptable” discrimination against believers.

Final statement

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]