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Muslim scholars and leaders stated in their letter to the Holy See: “As Muslims and in obedience to the Holy Quran, we ask Christians to come together with us on the common essentials of our two religions… Let this common ground be the basis of all future interfaith dialogue between us.”
Pope Benedict XVI deliuvers his blessing during the weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2008. The Vatican has confirmed that a ‘historic” meeting is planned for this spring between Catholics and Muslims to launch a dialogue after relations were soured by Pope Benedict XVI’s 2006 comments about Islam and holy war.
LOS ANGELES (Catholic Online) – Relying on a weekend report in ‘L’Osservatore Romano’, the Associated press is reporting that Catholic and Muslim representatives have agreed to a Spring meeting in Rome to begin what many hope will develop into an historic “dialogue” between the Catholic Church and significant leaders from the broader Islamic community.
Pope Benedict XVI proposed such a dialogue in his response to the now famous letter sent to the Holy See by 138 Muslim scholars from throughout the world.
The Holy Father’s response was criticized by some, even within the broader Christian community, for not having been more immediate. Some of the same people had also criticized his September 12, 2006 speech to an academic community in Regensburg on faith and reason without having read the full text.
Certain reports concerning his now famous scholarly presentation failed to identify the fact that that Benedict XVI was actually quoting from a medieval text which referred to some of the teachings of the Muslim prophet Muhammad on the use of “the sword” to advance Islam as “evil and inhuman.”
In other words, Pope Benedict never even made the comment.
Unfortunately, these reports invited a global reaction within some segments of the Islamic community which simply was not justified by the text. Worse yet, subsequent reports, equally deficient in checking the facts, fanned the flames of rage.
The Holy Father later stated, in a conciliatory gesture, that he was “deeply sorry” about the reactions. He clarified the fact that he was citing from a medieval text in a much broader talk concerning the proper and indispensable role of faith and reason on the path toward dialogue between major religions.
This conciliatory tone prompted Thirty-eight Muslim scholars to send the Pope a letter expressing gratitude for his clarifications and inviting dialogue. The Holy See did not immediately respond to this letter.
Again, there were some quick to criticize.
However, this measured approach now seems to have assisted the growing momentum toward dialogue. The number of Muslim signatories grew to over 138 scholars and represented several schools within the diverse religious traditions within global Islam.
These 138 scholars proposed that the two religious traditions work to find some common ground toward peaceful dialogue and cooperation. One of their suggestions was to focus upon the mutual emphasis between Christianity and Islam on the call to the love of God and neighbor as integral to religious faith and practice.
These Islamic scholars and leaders who signed the letter noted that Christians and Muslims comprise 55 percent of the global population and called for a peaceful path toward dialogue.
Many observers of this Pontificate see this Islamic overture and the ongoing dialogue which followed the now famous University of Regensburg address, as a sign that the deliberate and measured nature of the Papal response has produced a favorable result.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran gave this interview to L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican paper cited by the associated press. In this same interview he indicated that these three Islamic representatives would work with Catholic representatives to prepare the formal framework for a larger meeting intended to begin an ongoing dialogue between Islam and Christianity.
The Cardinal is the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue and, as such, is delegated with the authority to pursue such dialogue.
Catholic theology properly makes use of the term “ecumenism” only to refer to dialogue between Christians. It has been extended, due to the special relationship with the Jewish people as elder brothers and sons of the covenant with Abraham, to include Catholic and Jewish dialogue within its definitional embrace.
The term “Inter-religious dialogue” properly refers to dialogue between Catholics, as Christians, and other major religious traditions, including Islam.
The Cardinal did not give a specific date as to when this formal dialogue would begin. He simply indicated that it would occur during the spring and will include a number of subjects; the obligation to a mutual respect for the dignity of the human person, reciprocal understanding between all religions, and an appropriate tolerance which lies at the heart of an authentic vision of religious freedom.
The Cardinal told the official Vatican newspaper: “The meeting with a delegation of some of the 138 Muslims, planned for Rome next spring, is in a certain sense historic.”