VATICAN CITY: Catholics and Muslims must show the common belief that we are members of one family loved by God our Creator, and uphold the dignity of every human person, says Benedict XVI.
The Pope affirmed this today when he received in audience the members of the newly formed Catholic-Muslim Forum at the conclusion of its three-day seminar. The forum is comprised of 29 members of each creed and was formed by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and representatives of the 138 Muslim leaders who sent an open letter to Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders in October 2007.
After greeting the participants of the forum, the Holy Father assured them of his prayerful attention to the progress of the seminar. He expressed the awareness “that it represents one more step along the way toward greater understanding between Muslims and Christians within the framework of other regular encounters which the Holy See promotes with various Muslim groups.”
He acknowledged the recent increase in dialogue, initiatives and meetings between Catholic and Muslim groups and expressed the hope that the present seminar will motivate all involved to pass on its positive reflections on love to all people in order to effectively change their daily lives.
God and neighbor
“The theme which you have chosen for your meeting—“Love of God, Love of Neighbor: The Dignity of the Human Person and Mutual Respect”—is particularly significant,” said Benedict XVI. “It was taken from the [Muslims’] open letter, which presents love of God and love of neighbor as the heart of Islam and Christianity alike. This theme highlights even more clearly the theological and spiritual foundations of a central teaching of our respective religions.”
The Pope further distinguished the Christian understanding of love of God and neighbor, and noted that the foundation of Christian love is the recognition that “God is Love” and that this “infinite and eternal love enables us to respond by giving all our love in return.”
He added: “It was out of love that he created the whole universe, and by his love he becomes present in human history. The love of God became visible, manifested fully and definitively in Jesus Christ. He thus came down to meet man and, while remaining God, took on our nature. He gave himself in order to restore full dignity to each person and to bring us salvation.
“How could we ever explain the mystery of the incarnation and the redemption except by Love? Our calling and mission is to share freely with others the love which God lavishes upon us without any merit of our own.”
The Holy Father noted the fact that “Muslims and Christians have different approaches in matters regarding God.” Yet in light of the common position on the need to worship God as Creator, he exhorted both sides: “Together we must show, by our mutual respect and solidarity, that we consider ourselves members of one family: the family that God has loved and gathered together from the creation of the world to the end of human history.”
The other common position that the Pope stressed was the need “to love our fellow men and women disinterestedly, especially those in distress and need. God calls us to work together on behalf of the victims of disease, hunger, poverty, injustice and violence.” For Christians, he continued, this love of neighbor is inseparable from the love of God, and is the proof of its authenticity.
“The Muslim tradition is also quite clear in encouraging practical commitment in serving the most needy, and readily recalls the ‘Golden Rule’ in its own version: your faith will not be perfect, unless you do unto others that which you wish for yourselves,” he affirmed.
A peaceful future
The Pontiff called for the “recognition of the centrality of the person and the dignity of each human being, respecting and defending life, which is the gift of God, and is thus sacred for Christians and for Muslims alike” as the starting point for more peaceful worldwide relations.
Benedict XVI encouraged those present to protect the rights of all people everywhere: “Political and religious leaders have the duty of ensuring the free exercise of these rights in full respect for each individual’s freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.
“The discrimination and violence which even today religious people experience throughout the world, and the often violent persecutions to which they are subject, represent unacceptable and unjustifiable acts, all the more grave and deplorable when they are carried out in the name of God.”
He challenged both sides to testify in word and deed to the authenticity of their religion’s dedication to peace and mutual understanding. “It is essential that we do so,” the Pope said, “lest we weaken the credibility and the effectiveness not only of our dialogue, but also of our religions themselves.”
With a hopeful expression for the continued work of the “Catholic-Muslim Forum,” the Bishop of Rome entrusted the success of its mission to God and encouraged its members: “Dear friends, let us unite our efforts, animated by good will, in order to overcome all misunderstanding and disagreements.
“Let us resolve to overcome past prejudices and to correct the often distorted images of the other which even today can create difficulties in our relations; let us work with one another to educate all people, especially the young, to build a common future.”
The Philippine representative to the Forum, lead convenor of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy Amina Rasul, presented a letter to the Holy Father voicing the call of Filipino Muslims for his help in bringing peace to conflict-ridden and often war-torn areas of Mindanao.
Source of harmony
The forum participants declared their agreement that youth must be formed in their own religious traditions and correctly educated about other religions, to give witness to transcendent values in a secular society.
The final statement of the forum reflected many points of similarity between the two creeds as well as resolutions for positive action to build solidarity and peace between the two.
Foundation of love
The forum recognized the specific focus of Christian love: “The source and example of love of God and neighbor is the love of Christ for his Father, for humanity and for each person. God is Love and God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. God’s love is placed in the human heart through the Holy Spirit. It is God who first loves us thereby enabling us to love him in return.”
They continued with a summary of how love for one’s neighbor in word and deed follows necessarily from the Christian’s love for God. This love imitates Christ’s sacrificial love, and includes every human person, even enemies.
Turning to the Muslim perspective on love, the declaration affirmed: “Love is a timeless transcendent power which guides and transforms human mutual regard. This love, as indicated by the holy and beloved Prophet Muhammad, is prior to the human love for the one true God. […] God’s loving compassion for humanity is even greater than that of a mother for her child; it therefore exists before and independently of the human response to the One who is ‘The Loving.’”
In regard to love of neighbor, the statement added some Muslim beliefs similar to those of Christians: “Those that believe, and do good works, the Merciful shall engender love among them. […] Not one of you has faith until he loves for his neighbor what he loves for himself.”
Given these common foundations of love for God and neighbor, participants in the seminar recognized the gift of human life and the need to protect it. They asserted the belief that human dignity is based on each person’s creation “by a loving God out of love.” Thus every person deserves recognition of “his or her identity and freedom by individuals, communities and governments, supported by civil legislation that assures equal rights and full citizenship.”
The declaration acknowledged God’s creation of human personas as male and female, and noted the commitment of the forum to ensure “that human dignity and respect are extended on an equal basis to both men and women.”
Members of the forum wrote that love of neighbor includes respect for each person’s choices regarding religion. They affirmed that religious minorities are to be respected and that sacred figures, symbols and places should not be ridiculed.
They acknowledged: “As Catholic and Muslim believers, we are aware of the summons and imperative to bear witness to the transcendent dimension of life, through a spirituality nourished by prayer, in a world which is becoming more and more secularized and materialistic. […]
“We are convinced that Catholics and Muslims have the duty to provide a sound education in human, civic, religious and moral values for their respective members and to promote accurate information about each other’s religions.”
A source of peace
Seminar participants recognized that plurality in God’s creation is a richness and should not be a source of conflict. They professed the belief that “Catholics and Muslims are called to be instruments of love and harmony among believers, and for humanity as a whole, renouncing any oppression, aggressive violence and terrorism, especially that committed in the name of religion, and upholding the principle of justice for all.”