Vatican: Pope To Host Landmark Talks With Muslim Leaders

Vatican City, 5 March (AKI) – Pope Benedict XVI will host a landmark ‘Catholic-Muslim Forum’ in early November, aimed at improving ties between the two faiths, it was announced on Wednesday.

The announcement was made in a joint statement after a two-day meeting between senior Vatican and Muslim leaders in Rome.

“In order to further develop Catholic-Muslim dialogue, the participants agreed to establish the ‘Catholic-Muslim Forum’ and to organise the first seminar of the forum in Rome from 4 to 6 November 2008,” said a joint statement signed by the heads of the two delegations, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran and by Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad.

That meeting will be attended by 24 religious leaders and scholars from each side. The theme will be “Love of God, Love of Neighbour” and the sub-themes “Theological and Spiritual Foundations” and “Human Dignity and Mutual Respect”. The seminar will conclude with a public session on 6 November and the participants will be received by Pope Benedict XVI, the statement said.

Catholic-Muslim relations soured after a 2006 speech in Germany in which Benedict XVI quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor’s criticism of Islam, linking it to violence.

Following Muslim fury over the speech and worldwide protests, last October, 138 top Muslim scholars from 43 countries launched an appeal to the Pope for greater theological dialogue entitled “A Common Word”.

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

Tauran – the top Vatican official in charge of relations with Islam – and a delegation representing the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue met in Rome on Tuesday and Wednesday with Murad and four other Muslim leaders.

The talks were aimed at organising the November summit on interfaith dialogue.