New Forum To Try To Improve Catholic-Muslim Ties

ROME — The Vatican on Wednesday announced a new Catholic-Muslim Forum to try to improve relations between the religions. The announcement came after a delegation of Muslim scholars met with members of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue on Tuesday.

In a joint statement issued by the Holy See, the parties said that the forum’s first meeting, a seminar called “Love of God, Love of Neighbor,” would take place in Rome in November. The seminar, which will involve leaders and scholars from both religions, will deal with both theological matters and social themes. Pope Benedict XVI is expected to address the participants.

The delegation, which last year took part in writing an open letter calling for cooperation between Christianity and Islam, held a news conference on Wednesday to discuss the new forum.

“We need a sign of hope,” said Prof. Aref Ali Nayed, director of the Jordan Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in Amman, adding that world peace cannot be achieved without respect, dialogue and peace between the religions.

The initiative comes as a fresh start after a 2006 speech in Regensburg, Germany, in which the pope quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who called Islam “evil and inhuman.” As a result of the negative reaction from Muslims, the pope expressed deep regret, but said his use of the quote had been misinterpreted and he never clearly apologized.

The Muslim delegation also announced several initiatives to strengthen relations between Islam and denominations like Protestants and Orthodox Christians.

A document similar to the open letter to Christians is also being prepared to form new bonds between Muslims and their “Jewish brothers,” Professor Nayed said.