The Pope has invited senior Muslim figures for ground-breaking talks at the Vatican in a potential breakthrough at a time of tensions between Islam and the West.
Pope Benedict XVI, in a response to a letter from 138 Muslim scholars and leaders from around the world, emphasised the common belief of Christians and Muslims in one God. He also praised the “positive spirit” behind the initial approach from the Muslim leaders, who wrote to him last month.
Although the Pope has received leaders from the Muslim world individually, a Muslim-Christian gathering at the Vatican would be unprecedented.
Anglican leaders have been pressing the Pope not to miss an historic opportunity, and Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, discussed the issue with the pontiff at an inter-faith gathering in Naples in October.
In a letter to Prince Ghazi bin Muhammed bin Talal of Jordan, head of the Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Amman, Pope Benedict praised the “positive spirit” behind the Muslim leaders’ letter.
Muslim leaders and the Vatican have sought to repair the damage caused by reactions to Pope Benedict’s controversial speech last year at Regensburg University in Bavaria, Germany, his alma mater, on faith and reason. He appeared to link Islam and violence, sparking furious and violent reactions in the Muslim world. Aides explained that the Pope had meant to deplore any link between faith and violence and had been addressing the Western world above all.
Muslim signatories of the letter said they had no doubt that the papal invitation would be accepted.
The Italian Jesuit magazine Civiltà Cattolica, whose contents are vetted by the Vatican, said that it saw a “fundamental convergence between Christians and Muslims”.
Vatican-watchers noted, however, that the Pope had not raised the issue of “reciprocity”; while Muslims are free to worship in mosques in the West, Christians in some Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia are forbidden to worship in churches.