Pope Benedict: Muslims and Christians must cultivate reason in ‘faith and truth’

Amman, Jordan, May 9, 2009 / 06:47 pm (CNA) - On Saturday Pope Benedict XVI spoke to Jordanian leaders at the Al-Hussein Bin Talal Mosque in Amman. Following themes prominent in his 2006 Regensburg Address on the relationship between faith and reason, he said both Muslims and Christians face the challenge of cultivating human reason in the context of faith.

As an illustration in the Regensburg Address, Pope Benedict had quoted a Byzantine emperor’s negative comments about Mohammed and Islam. Reporting on those comments generated controversy and even violence in some parts of the Muslim world.

Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammed Bin Talal delivered remarks prior to Pope Benedict’s speech, noting that the noonday event marked the first time in history that a Pope has visited a new mosque.

The Prince added that Muslims appreciated the Vatican’s clarification that the emperor’s words were merely part of a quotation and did not reflect the Pontiff’s personal belief.

After the warm and welcoming speech by the Prince, Pope Benedict began his speech by saying it was “a source of great joy” to meet with the Prince and other distinguished persons. He said the Prince’s numerous inter-religious and inter-cultural initiatives were appreciated by the people of Jordan and the international community.

“I know that these efforts receive the active support of other members of the Royal Family as well as the nation’s government, and find ample resonance in the many initiatives of collaboration among Jordanians,” the Pope continued. “For all this, I wish to express my own heartfelt admiration.”

The challenge for Muslims and Christians, Pope Benedict said, is to cultivate the “vast potential of human reason” in the context of “faith and truth.”

“Christians in fact describe God, among other ways, as creative Reason, which orders and guides the world. And God endows us with the capacity to participate in his reason and thus to act in accordance with what is good,” he explained.

“Muslims worship God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who has spoken to humanity. And as believers in the one God, we know that human reason is itself God’s gift and that it soars to its highest plane when suffused with the light of God’s truth,” Pope Benedict continued. “In fact, when human reason humbly allows itself to be purified by faith, it is far from weakened; rather, it is strengthened to resist presumption and to reach beyond its own limitations.”

This practice “emboldens” human reason and extends, rather than confining or manipulating public debate, the Pope commented. Genuine adherence to religion protects civil society from “the excesses of the unbridled ego which tend to absolutize the finite and eclipse the infinite,” it ensures that freedom accompanies truth, and it “adorns culture with insights concerning all that is true, good and beautiful.”

This understanding of reason reminds Christians and Muslims that human rights hold equally for every man and woman “irrespective of his or her religious, social or ethnic group.”

“In this regard, we must note that the right of religious freedom extends beyond the question of worship and includes the right – especially of minorities – to fair access to the employment market and other spheres of civic life.”

He also addressed the views of those who assert that religions fail to build unity and harmony and who see religion as an inherent cause of division whose place in the “public sphere” must be minimized.

“Certainly, the contradiction of tensions and divisions between the followers of different religious traditions, sadly, cannot be denied. However, is it not also the case that often it is the ideological manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends, that is the real catalyst for tension and division, and at times even violence in society?”

In a situation where opponents of religion seek not only to silence it but to replace its voice with their own,“the need for believers to be true to their principles and beliefs is felt all the more keenly,” he said.

“Muslims and Christians, precisely because of the burden of our common history so often marked by misunderstanding, must today strive to be known and recognized as worshippers of God faithful to prayer, eager to uphold and live by the Almighty’s decrees, merciful and compassionate, consistent in bearing witness to all that is true and good, and ever mindful of the common origin and dignity of all human persons, who remain at the apex of God’s creative design for the world and for history,” Pope Benedict insisted.

He then praised Jordanian leaders’ efforts to ensure the public face of religion reflects its “true nature.”

As examples of this work, he listed his Friday visit to the Our Lady of Peace Center, where Christians and Muslims assist and educate disabled children, and also Madaba University, where Muslim and Christian adults are educated side by side.

These initiatives should prompt Christians and Muslims to probe “even more deeply” the “essential relationship” between God and His world to ensure that society “resonates in harmony with the divine order,” he exhorted.

Pope Benedict also acknowledged “in a special way” the presence of the Patriarch of Baghdad Emmanuel III Delly.

“The international community’s efforts to promote peace and reconciliation, together with those of the local leaders, must continue in order to bear fruit in the lives of Iraqis,” he said, expressing appreciation for those rebuilding Iraq.

“I urge diplomats and the international community they represent, together with local political and religious leaders, to do everything possible to ensure [for] the ancient Christian community of that noble land its fundamental right to peaceful coexistence with their fellow citizens,” he continued.

The Pope closed by saying he trusted his comments would create “renewed hope for the future.”

“May reason, ennobled and humbled by the grandeur of God’s truth, continue to shape the life and institutions of this nation, in order that families may flourish and that all may live in peace, contributing to and drawing upon the culture that unifies this great Kingdom!”

At a press conference following Pope Benedict’s appearance at the mosque, Vatican spokesman Fr. Frederico Lombardi again addressed the controversy over the Regensburg Speech.

Saying the Pope has delivered many speeches of relevance to Muslim-Christian dialogue since the “misunderstanding,” Fr. Lombardi commented that those who were able to receive the explanation now understand it while those who don’t “will not understand it.”

Dialogue between Muslims and the Vatican is “going on very well,” he reported.

Fr. Lombardi also responded to a question about whether Pope Benedict had taken off his shoes at the mosque, in accordance with Muslim custom.

He said the Pope had not removed his shoes because the Muslims organized a way to avoid this situation by laying down a carpet from the mosque entrance to the lecture hall.

“But everyone was ready to take their shoes off,” he said.