VATICAN – Catholic-Muslim Seminar Opens In Vatican, Aiming For Peace

VATICAN CITY (UCAN) – The first seminar held by the Catholic-Muslim Forum has begun at the Vatican, inspired by the shared conviction that there will be no peace in the world without peace between Muslims and Christians.

The Nov. 4-6 seminar brings together 58 Catholic and Muslim religious authorities, experts and advisors, 29 from each side.

The forum has its origins in an open letter — A Common Word — that Muslims sent to Pope Benedict XVI and the heads of other Christian Churches on 13 October, 2007.

In it they emphasized that the world cannot be at peace if Muslims and Christians are not. The 138 signatories called for both sides to dialogue frankly and sincerely, and work together on the basis of principles that Judaism, Christianity and Islam have in common. They especially highlighted central teachings on love of God and love of neighbor.

The broad coalition of Muslim leaders and scholars — which now has 271 members — wrote the letter amid tensions and even aggression against Christians after Pope Benedict’s lecture at Regensburg University, Germany, on Sept. 13, 2007. The pope cited a 14th-century Byzantine emperor’s remarks critical of Islam, which sparked widespread condemnation that Vatican media blamed on “instrumentalizations and misunderstandings” of his lecture.

Against this backdrop, Pope Benedict welcomed the letter as written in a “positive spirit” when he responded to the authors on Nov. 19, 2007, through Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state.

“Without ignoring or minimizing our differences as Christians and Muslims, we can and we must give attention to that which unites us,” Cardinal Bertone wrote to Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, president of the Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought.

The exchange of letters gave rise to contacts between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Muslim signatories, which led to a small delegation from both sides meeting in the Vatican March 4-5 this year. The parties agreed to organize the current seminar on the theme Love of God, Love of Neighbor, the Vatican daily, L’Osservatore Romano, reported in its Nov. 3-4 edition.

French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the pontifical council and former Vatican secretary for relations with states, or “foreign minister,” heads the Catholic side. Participants from the council also include Indonesian Divine Word Father Markus Solo, desk officer for Christian-Muslim dialogue in Asia. Other members include Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan, Pakistan, and three Jesuits known as close to Pope Benedict: Spanish Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Fathers Christian Troll from Germany and Samir Khalil Samir from Lebanon.

Mustafa Ceric, grand mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina, leads the Muslim representatives from countries including Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Malaysia, Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The three Asian members, not including West Asia, are Din Syamsuddin, president of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second-largest Islamic organization; Mohammad Hashim Kamali from Malaysia; and Amina Rasul, convener of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy.

For the first two days of closed-door sessions, participants are scheduled to discuss themes based on presentations given from both Catholic and Muslim perspectives. Tuesday’s theme is Theological and Spiritual Foundations of Love of God, Love of Neighbor, while Wednesday’s focus is Human Dignity and Mutual Respect.

On the final day, participants are scheduled to have an audience with Pope Benedict and a public session at Pontifical Gregorian University, where a joint declaration is due be read out.

L’Osservatore Romano reminded readers this meeting “is not a novelty.” Catholic-Muslim dialogue has been going on for a long time, it said, especially since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Over the past year the Vatican office for dialogue and Muslim institutions have met frequently in many parts of the world. All this “authorizes us to look to today’s meeting with hope,” the daily said.

With one-third of the world’s population embracing Christianity and one-fifth embracing Islam, these two religions account for more than half the people in the world.