Pope Benedict XVI has appealed to Muslims gathered for an historic meeting in the Vatican to join Christians in opposing violence “carried out in God’s name”. He said that although Muslims and Christians have “different approaches in matters regarding God, we can and must be worshippers of the one God who created us and is concerned about each person in every corner of the world.”
Speaking two years after his controversial speech on Islam at Regensburg University, in which he appeared to suggest that Islam was inherently violent and irrational, the Pope added; “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.”
In a reference to persecution of Christians he deplored “the discrimination and violence which even today religious people experience throughout the world, and the often violent persecutions to which they are subject”. These were “unacceptable and unjustifiable acts, all the more grave and deplorable when they are carried out in the name of God. God’s name can only be a name of peace and fraternity, justice and love. We are challenged to demonstrate, by our words and above all by our deeds, that the message of our religions is unfailingly a message of harmony and mutual understanding. It is essential that we do so, lest we weaken the credibility and the effectiveness not only of our dialogue, but also of our religions themselves”.
Pope Benedict was speaking at the end of a three-day “Catholic-Muslim Forum” between the Vatican Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and representatives of 138 Muslim leaders who signed an Open Letter to Christian leaders called “The Common Word” in October 2007, after the Regensburg address.
He said the gathering was “a clear sign of our mutual esteem and our desire to listen respectfully to one another. I can assure you that I have prayerfully followed the progress of your meeting, conscious that it represents one more step along the way towards greater understanding between Muslims and Christians”. This dialogue was not limited to a small group of experts and scholars but “a precious legacy to be placed at the service of all, to bear fruit in the way we live each day.”
The Pope declared: “The Christian tradition proclaims that God is Love….. It was out of love that he created the whole universe, and by his love he becomes present in human history.” The Muslim tradition was “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. We should thus work together in promoting genuine respect for the dignity of the human person and fundamental human rights, even though our anthropological visions and our theologies justify this in different ways.”
There was a great and vast field in which we can act together in defending and promoting the moral values which are part of our common heritage” Pope Benedict said..”Only by starting with 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 – only on the basis of this recognition, can we find a common ground for building a more fraternal world, a world in which confrontations and differences are peacefully settled, and the devastating power of ideologies is neutralized.”
He called on Muslims and Christians to “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. May God sustain us in our good intentions, and enable our communities to live consistently the truth of love, which constitutes the heart of the religious man, and is the basis of respect for the dignity of each person. May God, the merciful and compassionate One, assist us in this challenging mission, protect us, bless us and enlighten us always with the power of his love.”
Twenty-four Muslim leaders and scholars led by Mustafa Ceric, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, held the talks in the Vatican with the same number of Roman Catholic officials, led by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The seminar was held behind closed doors. The final session this afternoon, however, at the Gregorian University in Rome, will issue a public declaration.