Catholics, Muslims Say Forum Brought Them Closer

Participants Reflect on Results of Historic Seminar

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By Carmen Villa

ROME, NOV. 10, 2008 ( Members of the newly formed Catholic-Muslim Forum saw their first meeting as a space of dialogue, respect and a growing harmony between people of the two creeds.

During Thursday’s closing ceremony of the first Catholic-Muslim seminar, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, spoke about the highlights of the historical final declaration, jointly written by members of both religions.

«We believe that Catholics and Muslims are called to be instruments of love and harmony among believers, and for humanity in general, rejecting any type of oppression, aggressive violence and terrorism, above all when it is committed in the name of religion, and maintaining the principle of justice for all,» the prelate affirmed, citing the declaration.

The Nov. 4-6 seminar united a forum of 24 representatives and five advisors from each of the religions and ended with an audience with Benedict XVI. It was organized by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and by the signatories of the October 2007 letter «A Common Word,» which united high-level exponents of various branches of Islam.

One of the Muslim participants at the forum, Yahya Pallavicini, vice president of the Italian Islamic religious community, commented to ZENIT that the seminar resulted in the «uniting of theology with praxis and not establishing just a theological dialogue that remains abstract, nor a pragmatic discourse that only notes the social.»

Regarding interreligious violence, Pallavicini affirmed that such conflict occurs because of «reciprocal ignorance.» When there is a lack of «liberty, sense of responsibility and fraternity, arbitrary violence arises.»

To avoid this, he continued, we should «unite ourselves to condemn all types of violence when it uses religion and guarantee, through educational activities, a better respect for all diversity and human dignity.»

One of the Catholic representatives, Ilaria Morali, doctor in theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, said that one of the fruits of the seminar has been an «increasing reciprocal confidence, which is the presupposition for all dialogue.»

«If one is afraid of the other, he’s not free and is not serene about talking about himself,» she recognized.

There is on both sides a desire to understand each other, the professor observed, and «as in every human path, it begins by accepting that there are difficulties.»

Morali concluded by saying that the two religions share the mission of «bringing God to the center of the life of our world, to interpret our times in the light of God,» but «without falling into overly secularist divisions» that threaten the «vocation of every person.»

God’s gaze

At the closing ceremony, Joseph Maila, one of the advising participants and a Lebanese professor from the faculty of social and economic sciences at the Catholic Institute of Paris, asserted that religion «cannot be a principle of discrimination» because it is the «force that leads to peace.»

Therefore, he continued, each believer is «responsible for what he does in the name of religion,» which is the reason that each one should see themselves «under the gaze of God.»

Another participant, Canadian Ingrid Mattson, the director of the Islamic Society of North America, stated that she felt «the hand of God» in the encounter, and she thanked the Pope for the audience with him.

Speaking of the atmosphere of respect among the members, she said, «No one can compromise if he does not love his brother as himself.»

Dialogue «should begin from charity and not proselytism,» she added. Now begins a long path of work and growing closer, because «a simple conference can’t fix everything.»

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