Muslim Delegation Meets With Vatican To Prepare Interfaith Conference

Vatican City, Mar 5, 2008 / 02:01 am (CNA) - A delegation of Muslim leaders met with Vatican officials on Thursday to organize a summit for interfaith dialogue later this year, ANSA reports.

Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, is hosting the two-day organizing conference with a delegation of Muslims from the UK, Jordan, Italy, and Turkey representing a larger group of high-profile Sunni and Shiite leaders from around the globe.

The meeting is the result of an open letter 138 Islamic leaders sent last October to Pope Benedict XVI and 26 other Christian leaders.  The letter, “A Common Word Between Us and You,” was the first time so many high-profile Muslim leaders together had called for peace. 

The letter noted similarities between Christianity and Islam, noting both believed in only one God. nbsp; It said both religions are founded on “goodwill, not violence.”  The number of high-profile Muslim leaders adhering to the principles of the letter has increased to 216 and includes the religious heads of 43 countries including Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Sergio Yahya Pallavicini, a delegation member and President of the Italian Islamic Religious Community, said the planned conference aimed to discuss “a series of common initiatives between the two religions in defense of life, against the processes of secularization, and for the education of new generations.” 

According to ANSA, Pallavicini said Muslim leaders hoped to create “something similar to what the Vatican represents for the Catholic world,” a religious coordination that would provide a credible voice for Islam in meetings with the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Churches.

Pope Benedict has made interreligious dialogue a priority of his pontificate.  He re-established the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue in 2007, after having merged it with the Pontifical Council for Culture at the start of his papacy.

The October 2007 letter from Muslim scholars proposed love of God and love of neighbor as subjects for inter-religious dialogue.   However, Pope Benedict has tried to center the dialogue on the topics of human dignity and religious freedom.

In a November 2007 reply to the letter, Pope Benedict wrote that the path to true dialogue lies in “effective respect for the dignity of every human person, on objective knowledge of the religion of the other, on the sharing of religious experience and, finally, on common commitment to promoting mutual respect and acceptance among the younger generation.”

Over the next two days, the Muslim delegation and Church representatives plan to set a date, a venue, and a list of participants for the interfaith summit, which they hope will be attended by Pope Benedict and a large number of prominent Muslim leaders.