Vatican In Talks With Muslim Leaders – Update

Rome – Vatican officials and a delegation of Muslim leaders announced Wednesday the creation of a “Catholic-Muslim Forum” and to organize its first seminar in Rome from November 4-6. The announcement came following two days of talks five Vatican officials and five Muslim representatives from Italy, Britain, Jordan and Turkey.

The theme of the seminar would be “Love of God, Love of Neighbour,” said a Vatican-released statement signed by the talks’ host Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for InterreligiousDialogue and Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad, President of the Britain-based Muslim Academic Trust.

Pope Benedict XVI would receive the 24 religious leaders and scholars from each of the Catholic and Muslim sides attending the three-day long November seminar the statement said.

Sub-themes to be discussed included: Theological and Spiritual Foundations, on the first day, and Human Dignity and Mutual Respect on the second. The third say would consist of a “public session” the Vatican statement said.

Tuesday and Wednesday’s talks are the result of a open letter released in October by some 138 Muslim high-profile leaders in which they called for greater co-operation with Christians on achieving peace.

The Muslim delegation was scheduled to give a news conference in Rome at 1500 GMT.

Speaking ahead of the talks, one of the co-signatories of the letter Yahya Sergio Yahe Pallavicini said the planned summit would focus on “a series of common initiatives between the two religions in defence of life, against the processes of secularization, and for the education of new generations.”

Pallavicini the Italian Islamic Religious Community’s vice president, was also quoted as saying by the ANSA newsagency that Muslim leaders hoped to create “something similar to what the Vatican represents for the Catholic world,” as a vehicle to provide Muslims with a representative force when dealing with Christians.

The October letter by the Muslim leaders under the auspices of an Amman-based non-governmental organization headed by Prince Ghazi, the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, was widely viewed as a breakthrough in Muslim-Christian relations.

The letter was addressed to Pope Benedict XVI but also to the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, the heads of the Lutheran, Methodist and Baptist churches, the Orthodox Church’s patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I and other Orthodox patriarchs.

Benedict has indicated that interreligious dialogue is a priority of his pontificate, but relations with Muslims since he was elected pope in 2005 have been rocky.

Benedict hurt the feelings of many Muslims when in a September 2006 speech in Regensburg, Germany, he appeared to associate Islam with violence. But the pontiff has since worked to heal relations.

The pontiff later said his remarks had been misinterpreted and apologized for the response they provoked, including violence in several countries.

Benedict’s subsequent visit to Turkey where he prayed in Istanbul’s Blue Mosque and his meeting last year with King Abdullah have since improved his standing with Muslims.