Vatican and Turkey Sign Agreement on Interreligious Dialogue

Unprecedented Move with a Muslim Country

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 28, 2002 ( The Holy See and the government of Turkey, a primarily Muslim country, have signed an unprecedented agreement to promote interreligious dialogue.

The Declaration of Intentions was signed here Friday by Cardinal Francis Arinze, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and by Mehemt Nuri Yilmaz, president of the Turkish Religious Affairs Office.

Bishop Michael Fitzgerald, secretary of the pontifical council, told Vatican Radio that this agreement confirms the willingness «to reinforce dialogue between the Holy See and an office of the Turkish government, something that might seem a bit unusual.»

«This is generally not done and, in fact, we received special authorization to make this agreement, as in the Muslim world there is no great difference or real distinction between religious and governmental authorities,» the bishop said.

«If we seek a partner for the dialogue with Muslims in Turkey, this official partner is an exponent of the government. This is how it is explained in the agreement,» Bishop Fitzgerald added.

In the past the pontifical council has established agreements with Muslim institutions to promote dialogue between believers of the two religions, but it has not done so with governmental institutions as such.

For example, the council has formed a working committee with Al-Ahzar, the Muslim world´s most prestigious center of studies and research, located in Cairo, whose sheik is appointed by the Egyptian government. The center, however, is independent of the govenment.

In March, the Vatican council came to an agreement with the World Society for the Call to Islam, an institution with headquarters in Tripoli, Libya.

«As there is no central authority in the Muslim world, no equivalent to the Pope, no hierarchy, we are also obliged, in a certain sense, to engage in dialogue with the different countries, such as Iran, Turkey, Libya, Egypt, etc.,» Bishop Fitzgerald explained.

The declaration promotes «good understanding between Islam and Christianity» and seeks to «eliminate prejudices,» he said. The agreement supports «liberty of religion, of belief and of conscience. I think it is important to stress this affirmation of liberty,» he added.

«The document also intends to encourage programs of formation in the other religions, namely, Islam for Christians, Christianity for Muslims, and to stimulate dialogue in all its forms, especially between academic institutions,» the bishop said. «We have also agreed to meet periodically to oversee this agreement.»

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