VATICAN CITY — Two months after a galaxy of Muslim scholars and luminaries sent a letter to all Christian religious leaders worldwide, Roman Catholic cardinals say the Vatican will have a positive response in the near future.
“The Vatican will respond positively, and quite soon,” Dakar Cardinal Theodore-Adrien Sarr told Reuters on Sunday, November 25, during a ceremony to install 23 new members of the College of Cardinals.
“We will not miss this opportunity.”
Early October, 138 Muslim scholars and dignitaries addressed an open letter to the world’s Christian clergy, including Pope Benedict XVI, for dialogue based on common essentials between Islam and Christianity.
Themed “A Common Word Between Us and You”, the 29-page letter cites verses from the Noble Qur’an and the Bible on similarities between the two Abrahamic faiths.
The Muslim call has already won plaudits from many non-Catholic leaders, including Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Lutheran World Federation head Bishop Mark Hanson, World Council of Churches head Rev.Samuel Kobia and US Presbyterian Church head Clifton Kirkpatrick.
Several leading theologians, including Catholics, have already given the initiative the thump-up.
But the Vatican, which represents more than half the world’s two billion Christians, has not yet officially answered to the Muslim call.
“Watch out for this week,” said a veteran cardinal, requesting anonymity.
Sarr said the Vatican planned to invite a small group of the letter signatories for exploratory talks on the way forward.
“There will be a meeting with them to clarify what they want to do.
“After that, we’ll see what we can do.”
Catholic cardinals and experts on Islam see the Muslim initiative as a milestone.
“This is an opportunity the Lord has given us and put into the hearts of people to work together,” said Mumbai Cardinal Oswald Gracias.
“All of us (cardinals) are very happy.”
Paris Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois said a serious and broad Christian-Muslim dialogue would help inter-faith relations in France, which has Europe’s largest Muslim minority.
“This is a significant step.
“I remember that only a few years ago, we regretted there weren’t any Muslim leaders who could take a public stand, for example against terrorism.”
Catholic experts on Islam said the Vatican had reservations about complex theological issues such as whether Christians and Muslims had the same vision of God.
They said there was so much misunderstanding between Christians and Muslims about what each other believed that a serious dialogue about them would help improve relations.
“There are differences and they will always be there,” one said.
“But now is not the time to look for problems. It is important to respond to something so positive with something equally positive.”
Aref Ali Nayed, one of the Muslim signatories, said a Vatican’s positive response would give impetus to dialogue between the two faiths.
“[It] would be a clear sign of hope for the world.”