VATICAN CITY, JAN. 31, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The Catholic Church is committed to dialogue with Islam, despite the latest violence against Christians, and even if the Egypt-based Sunni Islam authority has announced a dialogue-freeze.
This is the affirmation made by the Vatican’s leader in dialogue with non-Christian religions: Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
The cardinal spoke today with L’Osservatore Romano about the Church’s unwavering commitment to building relationships with believers of other faiths.
“If we wish to progress in dialogue, we must first of all find time to sit down to talk from person to person, not through the newspapers,” the cardinal said.
Cardinal Tauran called on parties in Egypt to “read carefully” Benedict XVI’s words, to “dissipate misunderstandings.”
Relations with Egypt grew tense after the Jan. 1 attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria as the faithful were leaving the Divine Liturgy. More than 20 died and dozens were wounded.
In the following days, the Holy Father referenced the attack in the context of statements about religious violence.
Cairo took offense at the Pontiff’s words and recalled its ambassador. Later, the Islamic Research Council of the University of al-Azhar, the highest authority of Sunni Islam, announced a dialogue-freeze.
The Permanent Committee of al-Azhar for Dialogue among the Monotheistic Religions has teamed with the Joint Committee for Dialogue of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue since 1998. They meet annually, alternatively in Cairo and Rome, and their next meeting was scheduled for February.
Cardinal Tauran said the Vatican is trying to “understand well” the motives behind the al-Azhar decision.
He reiterated that “a careful reading” of the Holy Father’s words, both in the Message for the World Day of Peace as well as his address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, “could help to dissipate misunderstandings.”
Speaking Jan. 10 to the Diplomatic Corps, the Pontiff noted the persecution of Christians in Iraq, after which he added: “In Egypt too, in Alexandria, terrorism brutally struck Christians as they prayed in church. This succession of attacks is yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments of the region to adopt, in spite of difficulties and dangers, effective measures for the protection of religious minorities.”
The great imam at al-Azhar, Ahmad al-Tayyeb, took the Holy Father’s references as an “unacceptable intervention in Egypt’s affairs.”
But Cardinal Tauran says the Pope’s statements refer “to universal values.”
“[O]n speaking of effective respect for the rights and liberties of the human person, he does not commit any transgression on questions that are not of his competence,” he stated.
“There is nothing more false” than to say that this Pope dislikes Islam, Cardinal Tauran added. “I have never found in Benedict XVI’s words the least contempt for Islam.”
“I hope that those who read Pope Benedict XVI’s addresses will be helped to understand that communities of believers are called to become schools of prayer and fraternity,” he added.
Despite the new developments, Cardinal Tauran affirmed that his dicastery “will continue to receive with friendship whoever wishes to engage in conversation with the Catholic Church, and we say to our friends that we appreciate what they have done and do with courage and constancy to maintain the ancient customs of good neighborliness with followers of other religions.”
“For now,” the cardinal added, “all our planned meetings are still on track, including that of February with our interlocutors of Cairo.”
“More than ever,” he said, “incumbent upon us believers is the duty to make our contemporaries rediscover the existence of a Love that is greater than they are, and that this Love cannot but push us to take to all, in our disarmed hands, the light of a friendship that nothing can discourage.”