Vatican hosts meeting with Muslim scholars
Nov 4, 9:00 AM (ET)
By ARIEL DAVID
VATICAN CITY (AP) - In a bid to improve strained Catholic-Muslim relations, the Vatican hosted scholars, imans and clerics from both religions Tuesday as it opened a three-day religious conference.
The forum aimed to counter the effects of a speech two years ago by Pope Benedict XVI that angered many in the Islamic world.
The meetings will culminate in a papal audience and is intended to help the two faiths find common ground. The closed-door forum, which gathers 29 scholars and clerics from each religion, started Tuesday and will last through Thursday.
The Vatican said in a statement the first day was dedicated to the "spiritual and theological fundamentals" of the two religions, and the second will focus on "human dignity and mutual respect."
The presence of an archbishop from Iraq suggests that violence targeting Christians in Iraq and other countries could be one topic on the agenda.
The forum was set up in response to a letter written last year by 138 Muslim scholars to Benedict and other Christian leaders urging that Christianity and Islam to build on their common belief in one God.
The Vatican welcomed the letter. It has been eager to improve relations with moderate Islam since Benedict angered many Muslims with a 2006 speech about Islam and violence.
In the speech, Benedict quoted a Medieval text that characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."
The pope later said he was "deeply sorry" over the reaction to his remarks, and the passages he quoted did not reflect his own opinion.
In their letter, the Muslim scholars, muftis and intellectuals drew parallels between Islam and Christianity and their common focus on love for God and love for one's neighbor. They also noted that such a focus is found in Judaism.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who heads the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, has said Thursday's papal audience could start a historic dialogue between the faiths.
Tauran is heading the Vatican delegation, which also includes the retired archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
The Muslim group includes Swiss scholar Tariq Ramadan and Seyyed Damad, dean of the Department of Islamic Studies at Iran's Academy of Sciences. Other representatives come from countries ranging from the United States and Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
A spokesman for the Muslim delegation said both sides had agreed not to release details on the meeting until Thursday.
Cardinal hopes forum opens new chapter in Catholic-Muslim relations
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- On the eve of the first meeting of the Catholic-Muslim Forum, the cardinal responsible for the dialogue said he hoped it would open "a new chapter" in a long history of Catholic-Muslim relations.
French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, gave interviews in early November to Vatican Radio and to the French Catholic newspaper La Croix.
He told Vatican Radio that the Nov. 4-6 meeting with representatives of the 138 Muslim scholars who began the Common Word initiative in 2007 would give participants an opportunity to explain their faiths through their understanding of the commandments to love God and to love one's neighbor.
While theological points underlie the discussion, "properly speaking, one cannot say that we have a theological dialogue," he said in the Nov. 3 interview with Vatican Radio.
Rather, he said, the Vatican's dialogues with Muslims have focused on ethical questions, spirituality and joint action on behalf of the suffering.
He told La Croix Nov. 2: "At the moment theological dialogue has not really begun. We will see with the Forum, when we will speak of the love of God, how far we can go together. What is important is to know the theological thinking of the other" and to share the riches that come from our respective religious traditions.
The second day of the meeting is expected to focus on human dignity and mutual respect, and Cardinal Tauran said he hoped that would be an opportunity for the Vatican to voice its concerns about the limits on freedom of conscience and religious practice Catholics face in some Muslim countries.
Cardinal Tauran said it is natural to want reciprocity and to believe that the freedom that is good for Muslims in Europe, for example, would be good for Christians in the Middle East.
"But beware," he said, "the principle of reciprocity is not a prerequisite for dialogue; this is not the logic of 'Do ut des' (I give so that you will give). That would be anti-Christian."
Instead, he said, ensuring respect for each other's beliefs and rights is something that results from gradually changing attitudes.
While several high-level initiatives give hope that changes will take place, the cardinal said, "the problem is that these initiatives of dialogue seem very hit-and-miss compared to the daily stories of anti-Christian violence in several countries. The question is how do we get these real openings we have with the elite to filter down to the masses."