1st Catholic-Muslim Forum

Source: FSSPX News


From November 4 to 6, the 1st Catholic-Muslim Forum was held at the Vatican, behind closed doors, on the theme “Love of God and Love of Neighbor”. At the origin of this interreligious meeting was the open letter “A common Word between us and you” addressed to Benedict XVI and to other Christian officials by 138 Muslim leaders in October 2007. The text of the “Letter of the 138” had been discussed and given its finishing touch, in September 2007, during a congress organized at the Royal Institute Al Al-Bayt for Islamic Thought (Jordan) and sponsored by King Abdallah II. Since then, the letter has been signed by 137 other Muslim officials, thus bringing the number of signatories to 275.

The Catholic-Muslim Forum was put in jeopardy by the baptism of a Muslim convert, Magdi Allam, at the hands of Benedict XVI at St. Peter’s in Rome on March 22. Indeed, among the hostile reactions to the baptism were those of two important signatories of the “Letter of the 138”, namely Yahya Pallavicini, imam of the Mosque al-Wahid in Milan, who declared himself “embarrassed by the lack of tactfulness” shown by those who had desired to have Magdi Allam baptized at St. Peter’s; and the Libyan theologian, professor in Cambridge, Aref Ali Nayed, who had criticized Magdi Allam, and even more Benedict XVI, accusing him of having desired to reiterate, with this gesture, “the outrageous” address of Regensburg (September 12, 2006). A few days later, the Vatican, by its spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, had distanced itself from some of Magdi Allam’s declarations: “To receive a new faithful into the Church obviously does not mean that we embrace all his ideas, and viewpoints, especially about political and social issues.”

During an interview published by the French daily La Croix, in its November 3, 2008 issue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for interreligious dialogue, specified the stakes of the meeting. According to him, “dialogue can be achieved only outside of any ambiguity” and it is “always a call to affirm our identity.” In his eyes, this dialogue “does not aim at conversion, but at a mutual knowledge” (sic). The prelate mentioned the principle of “reciprocity” often recalled by Catholic authorities in their dialogue with Islam: “If a Muslim is enabled to have a place of worship in Europe, it is normal that the converse be true in societies in which Muslims are a majority,” but he added that for all that “the respect of the principle of reciprocity is not a precondition to dialogue.”

“The problem,” he noted, “is that the initiative of dialogue seems not to keep pace with the daily stories of anti-Christian violence in several countries.” And he wondered: “How can we manage to have these - real - openings with the elite conveyed to the crowd?” By way of conclusion, Cardinal Tauran summed up the objective of interreligious dialogue which “obliges the ones and the others to bear witness to their faith.” For him, “all believers (regardless of their religions, Ed.) are responsible for reminding their brothers and sisters in mankind that ‘Man liveth not by bread alone’.” -- Nothing else? Consequently this means that such a dialogue boils down to a vague spiritualism which sets aside eternal Salvation. Indeed, it is no longer a matter of “conversion”, but merely of “mutual knowledge”…

The meeting in Rome gathered 58 participants, 29 on the Catholic side and 29 on the Muslim side. Among the Muslim representatives could be noted the presence of Yahya Pallavicini and Aref Ali Nayed, mentioned above, of Iranian ayatollah Seyyed Mustafa Monagheg Damad, of the American Ingrid Mary Mattson, of Adane Mokrani, Professor at the Gregorian University, of the President of Italian Muslim Intellectuals Ahmad Gianpiero Vincenzo, of the president of the National Federation of Muslims in France, Mohamed Becharid, and of the writer, Tariq Ramadan.

Pope’s Address and Joint Message

On Thursday, November 6, Benedict XVI received in audience the some sixty participants to the forum. “Let us unite our efforts, animated by good will, in order to overcome all misunderstanding and disagreements,” he declared. “Let us resolve to overcome past prejudices and to correct the often distorted images of the other which even today can create difficulties in our relations,” he wished. After having expressed his “hope” that “fundamental human rights will be protected for all people everywhere,” the pope pointed out that “Political and religious leaders have the duty of ensuring the free exercise of these rights in full respect for each individual’s freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.”

After the pope’s address, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, professor of Islamic Science at the George Washington University (USA), said that if they believe in “religious liberty, Muslims do not permit an aggressive proselytism in their midst, which would undermine (their) faith in the name of religious liberty,” -- thus showing that the principle of reciprocity will very likely be applied unilaterally only.

At the end of the three-day meeting, the participants released a joint message. In this declaration, Catholics and Muslims proclaimed a number of common values and commitments, acknowledging first that: “Human life is a most precious gift of God to each person. It should therefore be preserved and honoured in all its stages.”  “We profess that Catholics and Muslims are called to be instruments of love and harmony among believers, and for humanity as a whole, renouncing any oppression, aggressive violence and terrorism, especially that committed in the name of religion, and upholding the principle of justice for all,” pointed out the signatories, who also expressed a desire for the “respect of the person and his or her choices in matters of conscience and religion,” as well as “the right of individuals and communities to practice their religion in private and public.” “We affirm that no religion and its followers should be excluded from society,” they wrote. In their eyes, “religious minorities are entitled to be respected in their own religious convictions and practices. They are also entitled to their own places of worship, and their founding figures and symbols they consider sacred should not be subject to any form of mockery or ridicule.”

Next, they expressed the desire that “human dignity and respect [be] extended on an equal basis to both men and women.” They likewise declared themselves “convinced” that they “have the duty to provide a sound education in human, civic, religious and moral values for their respective members and to promote accurate information about each other’s religions.”

As if in answer to this joint message, a letter was sent by 144 Christians - Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants -- to the participants of the Rome meeting. Half of the signatories of this letter were former Muslims converted to Christianity -- from Maghreb and the Middle East --; they requested that “the status of ‘dhimmi’ be abolished, that the liberty to change religion be considered a fundamental right, and that Islamic law be not imposed upon non-Muslims.” Besides, they expressed the wish that “Islamic-Christian dialogue take into account the situation of those who live in the ‘Muslim’ world or come from it.”

Other interreligious meetings on the pattern of the Catholic-Muslim Forum are being prepared: on March 23 and 24, a conference at Georgetown University (Washington DC - USA) will deal with the political implications of the “Letter of the 138”; and a “Grand conference” should be held on the banks of the Jordan  River in October 2009. (Sources: La Croix/Apic/Imedia)


Our comment: Cardinal Tauran spoke of an interreligious dialogue “not keeping pace” with the realities of anti-Christian persecutions. Without mentioning those to which are submitted the Christians in the State of Orissa in India (see DICI n° 183, and the next issue of Christendom), we can speak of the martyrdom of Iraqi Christians. Is not this dialogue “which does not keep pace” nothing else deep down than an interreligious monologue? What is religious liberty, such as Vatican II defined it, worth for Muslims? Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Professor of Islamic Science at the George Washington University, gave the answer:  There is no question of evangelizing among us and of undermining our faith in Allah in the name of religious liberty!

 No Interreligious Arguments Stand Up Against the Facts

Wednesday, November 12, in Iraq, a group of armed youngsters, aged between 16 and 18, attacked the home of a Christian family of the Alqahira district in Mosul, killing two sisters Lamia Sobhy Salloha and Walàa Sobhy Salloha. These two young faithful of the Syro-Catholic Church of Mosul worked for the city office of Wala. The mother of the victims was hospitalized with stab wounds, , whereas the father and another boy managed to flee. Next, the assailants put a bomb on the door of the house, thus killing two approaching policemen and wounding a third. “This murder,” said Bishop Shlemon Warduni, Patriarchal Vicar of Baghdad, “points to something well organized which may be part of a plan aiming at having Christians leave Iraq.” Yet, the situation seemed to have become calm again, especially thanks to the presence of the governmental armed forces. Many families had returned to Mosul, and others were contemplating returning  within the next days. “But now, fear has returned,” he deplored.

According to the Assyrian International Press Agency Aina, “a Christian bishop has received a threatening letter from the fundamentalist Islamic group Ansar al-Islam, affiliated to Al Quaida, in which all Christians are commanded to leave the country.” “There is no room in the country for you from now on,” declared the letter published by the on-line daily Al-Ittihad. The general secretariat of the members of the Islamic Brigade “has decided to give a last warning to the infidel crusaders of Baghdad and the other provinces.” They are ordered to leave Iraq immediately and permanently “and to join Benedict XVI and his disciples who have trodden under foot the greatest symbols of mankind and of Islam.” The letter threatened to cut the throat of Christians, as has already happened in Mosul. This intimidation is not the first that the Christian community in Iraq has undergone. It is added to a long series of  humiliations : the payment of the jizya, a “protection tax” which non-Muslims must pay, the obligation of wearing the Muslim veil, the hijab, down to conversions under compulsion, rapes, murders (a dozen Christians have been murdered these past weeks in Mosul) and attacks against their buildings and homes.

On November 20, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State of the Holy See, spoke on the occasion of the presentation of a book on the Holy Land in the Museum of the Vatican. He expressed the wish that “the Holy Land be some kind of test lab for interreligious dialogue.” Jerusalem, especially, “the Holy City, by excellence,” he maintained, must become the “symbol of peace and dialogue” between the great monotheistic religions. The prelate mentioned the situation of the Christians in Iraq, “a resource” in the whole history of the country: “Their persecution is a real wound,” he stated.

(Sources: SIR/Misna/Apic/Imedia/CNS)

 We refer our readers to the article Official Dialogue and Real Persecutions to be published in the next issue of Christendom.