Almost two months after their inter-faith dialogue offer, Pope Benedict XVI invited on Thursday, November 29, Muslim scholars and intellectuals to a meeting at the Vatican.
“The Pope has asked me to convey his gratitude to Your Royal Highness and to all who signed the letter,” Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone wrote in a letter to Jordanian Prince Ghazi bin Mohammad bin Talal, head of the Institute for Islamic Thought in Amman.
“He also wishes to express his deep appreciation for this gesture, for the positive spirit which inspired the text and for the call for a common commitment to promoting peace in the world.”
On October 11, 138 Muslim scholars and dignitaries from around the world sent an open letter to the world’s Christian clergy, including Pope Benedict, for dialogue based on common essentials between Islam and Christianity.
Bertone said the pontiff wanted to meet a representative group of the signatories to encourage their “praiseworthy initiative.”
“His Holiness would be most willing to receive Your Royal Highness and a restricted group of signatories of the open letter, chosen by you,” read the letter dated November 19 but only released on Thursday.
Cardinals who had gathered last week in the Vatican for a special meeting to install 23 new members of the College of Cardinals said the Muslims’ letter was “an encouraging sign” for dialogue.
The letter had already won plaudits from many non-Catholic leaders, including Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Lutheran World Federation head Bishop Mark Hanson, World Council of Churches head Rev.Samuel Kobia and US Presbyterian Church head Clifton Kirkpatrick.
The latest came from more than 300 Christian scholars and clergymen from across the globe who have signed a letter apologizing to Muslims for the Crusades and the repercussions of America’s so-called war on terror.
The signatories, mostly clergymen from the United States, said they were deeply “encouraged” and “challenged” by the Muslim dialogue initiative.
- One God
The Vatican latter sought to highlight commonalities between the two Abrahamic faiths.
“Without ignoring or downplaying our differences as Christians and Muslims, we can and therefore should look to what unites us, namely, belief in the one God, the provident Creator and universal Judge who at the end of time will deal with each person according to his or her actions,” it read.
“We are all called to commit ourselves totally to him and to obey his sacred will.”
The letter underlined that Pope Benedict “was particularly impressed by the attention given (by the Muslims) to the twofold commandment to love God and one’s neighbor.”
The Muslims’ message, which has since been signed by other luminaries, underlines that both the Quran and the Bible are calling for the love of God and mankind.
Themed “A Common Word Between Us and You”, the 29-page letter cited verses from the Noble Qur’an and the Bible on similarities between both faiths.
The Vatican’s top official for relations with Islam — Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran — had initially expressed doubt both faiths could agree on such issues as God, love and how to read sacred scripture.
Pope Benedict said dialogue should be based on respect for the dignity of every human being, knowledge of the other’s religion and commitment to promoting mutual respect and acceptance among the younger generation.
“The Pope is confident that, once this is achieved, it will be possible to cooperate in a productive way in the areas of culture and society, and for the promotion of justice and peace in society and throughout the world.”
Aref Ali Nayed, one of the signatories and senior adviser to the Cambridge Interfaith Program in Britain, welcomed the letter.
“The Vatican response is very important and we are very happy that it is positive,” he told Reuters.