Vatican Welcomes Muslim Delegation

Vatican City, (ANSA): A delegation of Muslim leaders met with Vatican officials on Tuesday in a bid to organise a groundbreaking summit for interfaith dialogue later this year. 

Jean Louis Tauran, head of the Council for Inter-religious dialogue, is hosting the two-day conference with Muslims from the UK, Jordan, Italy and Turkey who represent a larger group of high-profile Sunni and Shiite leaders from around the world.

This week’s meeting is the result of an open letter 138 Islamic leaders sent to Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and 25 other Christian leaders in October last year calling for Muslim-Christian collaboration for peace.

The number of high-profile Sunni and Shiite Muslims adhering to the principles of the letter has since risen to 216 and includes the religious heads of 43 countries including Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Over the next two days the Muslim delegation and Church representatives plan to set a date, place and list of participants for the interfaith summit, which they hope will be attended by Pope Benedict and a large number of influential Muslim leaders.

According to President of the Italian Islamic Religious Community (COREIS) and delegation member Sergio Yahya Pallavicini, the aim of the summit – which could be held as early as this spring – will be to discuss ”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 added that the Muslim leaders hoped to create a religious ”coordination” for the Islamic world, ”something similar to what the Vatican represents for the Catholic world”, that would provide a credible voice for Islam in meetings with the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Churches.

It was not clear how the leaders would resolve differences between Sunni and Shiite Muslims – and moderates and extremists – to come to an agreement on this voice.

But the October letter, entitled ”A Common Word between Us and You”, was the first time so many high-profile Muslims had come together to make such a public call for peace.

It pointed out similarities between Christianity and Islam, noting that both require followers to believe in only one god and that both are founded on ”goodwill, not violence”.

Pope Benedict has made inter-religious dialogue a priority of his papacy and has worked hard to mend relations with Islam since he seriously upset Muslims around the world with his comments on the prophet Mohammed in 2005.

The 80-year-old pontiff sparked anger after citing a medieval emperor who said Islam was a ”violent” religion at a lecture in Regensburg, Germany.

In an effort to demonstrate his commitment to fostering goodwill among religions he re-established the Council for Inter-religious dialogue in 2007 after having merged it with the Council for Culture at the start of his pontificate.