Vatican: Catholic-Muslim Forum A “Step Forward”

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 9, 2008 ( - The first seminar of the Muslim-Catholic Forum was “a significant step forward in dialogue,” says a Vatican spokesman.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, made this claim on the last episode of “Octava Dies,” a weekly program of the Vatican Television Center. The three-day Catholic-Muslim meeting ended Thursday in Rome.

The Church, he recalled, “has regular meetings with various groups of Muslim representatives,” but this meeting “demonstrated the possibility of entering more deeply and frankly into essential themes and of successfully expressing, with greater clarity and fidelity, that which unites and differentiates [us].”

The final joint declaration “contains important statements about respect for persons and their choices in matters of conscience and religion [and] on the equal dignity of men and women.”

Father Lombardi said that Benedict XVI is encouraging the efforts at dialogue.

The Vatican spokesman characterized the dialogue of the forum as “open” and taking place in “a climate of trust.” He added that there are hopes that the dialogue will extend itself to larger circles in the Christian and Muslim world.

The priest observed that the often bloody conflicts between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and the Balkans have made the dialogue “complex and difficult, but they must not hamper or stop it.”

Benedict XVI, Father Lombardi said, has invited the two sides to “unite their efforts, with the goal of overcoming incomprehension, overcoming prejudices and correcting the distorted image of the other.”

“The road remains a long one but this is a step in the right direction,” Father Lombardi concluded.