Muslim Religious Leaders Accept Pope Benedict’s Talks Offer

Rome – A group of 138 prominent Islamic religious leaders who are championing improved relations between Muslims and Christians have accepted an invitation by Pope Benedict XIV for a meeting and have suggested dates to prepare for such talks.

‘In a letter to (Vatican Secretary of State) Cardinal Tarciso Bertone, we suggested a meeting could be held in February or March, to organize an audience with the Pope,’ Yahya Sergio Yahe Pallavicini an Italian imam and who co-signed the letter, told Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa on Friday.

The letter by the group of Muslim leaders which is headed by Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal was handed over to the Vatican’s Nuncio or ambassador in Jordan’s capital Amman on December 12, Pallavicini said.

Vatican Radio announced Thursday the letter had been received, but did not mention any dates for the proposed meeting between representatives of the Muslim leaders and Holy See officials.

In their letter the Muslim leaders also noted they were ‘encouraged’ to make their proposal following the historic meeting in November between the pontiff and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah.

The meeting at the Vatican marked the first between a pontiff and a Saudi monarch who traditionally also holds the Islamic title of Custodian of the Holy Mosques of Mecca and Medina.

The group of 138 Muslims, under the auspices of an Amman-based non-governmental organization headed by Prince Ghazi, the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, first reached out to Christian leaders with a letter in October.

The letter addressed to Benedict but also to the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, the heads of the Lutheran, Methodist and Baptist churches, the Orthodox Church’s patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I and other Orthodox patriarchs, was widely viewed as a breakthrough in Muslim-Christian relations.

Stressing that Muslims and Christians made up more than half the world’s population, it identified their relations as ‘the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world.’

In a November 19 letter signed by Bertone, Benedict thanked the Muslim leaders for their initiative and invited the group to engage in further dialogue with the church.

The pontiff who leads the worlds 1.1 billion Roman Catholics also said he wished to invite Prince Ghazi and ‘a restricted group of the signatories of the open letter’ to the Vatican to meet him for talks.

Benedict hurt the feelings of many Muslims when in a September 2006 speech in Regensburg, Germany, he appeared to associate Islam with violence. But the pontiff has since worked to heal relations.

Benedict said his Regensburg remarks had been misinterpreted and apologized for the response they provoked, including violence in several countries.

The pontiff’s subsequent visit to Turkey where he prayed in Istanbul’s Blue Mosque and his meeting with King Abdullah have since improved his standing with Muslims.

© 2007 dpa – Deutsche Presse-Agentur