PARIS/ROME — Senior Muslim and Vatican scholars meet Tuesday, March 4, in Vatican City to set the stage for a summit between Pope Benedict XVI and a galaxy of Muslim scholars later this year to help bridge the gap between Islam and the Catholic church.
“The two-day talks are aimed at working out the details of a landmark meeting between the Pope and some 138 Muslim dignitaries by midyear,” vicar Ceriani, the media officer of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue (PCID), told IslamOnline.net.
“The meeting seeks to promote tolerance between different faiths and address roots of animosity.”
The Muslim delegation includes Yahya Sergio Pallavicini, vice-president of the Italian Islamic Religious Community; chair of the Muslim Academic Trust in London Abdal-Hakim Murad, and Ibrahim Kalin Silk, professor of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the PCID, will head the Vatican’s delegation to today’s meeting.
The meeting is the idea of the Pope as part of his official response to a Muslim initiative that urged for a candid dialogue with Christian clergymen worldwide.
In an open letter themed “A Common Word Between Us and You,” 138 Muslim scholars wrote to Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders in October, saying “the very survival of the world itself” might depend on dialogue.
Tuesday’s talks and the upcoming summit come after Catholic-Muslim relations have hit all time low as Benedict angered Muslims with a speech on faith and reason in September 2006 in Germany.
In his speech, Benedict cited a medieval text that characterized some of the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) as “evil and inhuman,” particularly “his command to spread by the sword the faith.”
He repeatedly expressed regret for the reaction to the speech but stopped short of the clear apology sought by Muslims.
The no-apology stance had forced the leading International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS), chaired by Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, to boycott the Vatican.
Topping the priorities of today’s meeting is the importance of dialogue between Islam and Christianity.
“Now there is a need for deeper dialogue on doctrine, theology and the character of religions in today’s world and the challenges we face,” Pallavicini, the vice-president of the Italian Islamic Religious Community, told Reuters.
“We must try, together with the Pope, to get on a path of dialogue on issues confronting humanity today.”
On the Pope’s summit with Muslim scholars in the Vatican, Pallavicini says extremism and terrorism will be high on the talks agenda.
“Terrorism is one thing that has to be discussed,” he said.
“All religious leaders must renew a message of peace in their faith. Then it will be easier to isolate extremists and avoid the wrong use of religion.”
At the end of their preparatory talks on Wednesday, Muslim and Catholic leaders will also issue a statement calling for the respect of all faiths.
According to Vatican sources, the statement will draw a line between “the freedom of expression, on the one hand, and irreverence of religions, on the other,” in a reference to the recent reprinting in Danish newspapers of a blasphemous cartoon of a man described as Prophet Muhammad with a ticking bomb in his turban.
The Vatican strongly condemned last month the republication of the offensive cartoon.