New Dialogue Between Holy See And Muslims

Vatican and Muslim representatives are set to open a new chapter of dialogue in an encounter that is expected to touch on common spiritual principles and perspectives on human rights.

It will be the first meeting of the Catholic-Muslim Forum, formed in the wake of widespread Muslim indignation over Pope Benedict XVI’s speech in Regensburg, Germany, in 2006.

The sessions at the Vatican from November 4-5 will take place behind closed doors, followed by a public session on November 6 with a few representatives from each side. Both delegations include women scholars.

The Pope is expected to address the approximately 50 participants at some point in their discussions, an address that is already awaited with interest.

While no official agenda has been published, the theme of the talks is “Love of God, Love of Neighbour,” and the sessions are expected to focus on two areas:

? On the first day, the theological and spiritual foundations of Christian and Muslim teachings on love and charity, a topic that points toward broad areas of agreement and perhaps practical cooperation.

? On the second day, human dignity and mutual respect, an area that may allow the Vatican to press its concerns about human rights and the treatment of minority Christian communities in Muslim countries, including Iraq.

To date, the Vatican has said little about the upcoming meeting, and there seems to be a deliberate attempt not to raise expectations or to portray this dialogue session as the defining moment in Catholic-Muslim relations.

When he recently briefed the Synod of Bishops on the upcoming encounter, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, underlined that this was not the first time the Vatican has held an important dialogue with Muslims.

He said the fundamental text for the Catholic side remains “Nostra Aetate” – the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 declaration on relations with non-Christians.

Muslim participants involved in preparing the meeting have said it was important that the new forum did not focus on political issues or end up debating a “list of grievances” on both sides. Instead, they have expressed hope that the dialogue can counter misperceptions of the Islamic world in the west.