Meeting with a group of Muslim clerics as well as several ambassadors from mostly Islamic countries today, Pope Benedict XVI reiterated his desire to continue down the road of sincere dialogue in order to foster peace in the world.
The Pontiff, who invited the Muslim representatives to his residence at Castelgandolfo to reaffirm his respect and esteem for their religion and people, told the leaders that the dialogue between Christians and Muslims, “cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is, in fact, a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends.”
Benedict clearly indicated his desire to forge ahead with interfaith talks, barely mentioning the comments which have caused an uproar in the Muslim world. “The circumstances which have given rise to our gathering are well known,” Benedict commented, reminding them that he has already offered his regrets that offence had been taken and his assurances that the views of emperor Manuel II in no way reflect his own.
He then went on to quote the Second Vatican Council document “Nostra Aetate,” which he called the “Magna Carta” for the Church’s position on Muslim-Christian dialogue, saying “The Church looks upon Muslims with respect. They worship the one God living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to humanity and to whose decrees, even the hidden ones, they seek to submit themselves whole-heartedly, just as Abraham, to whom the Islamic faith readily relates itself, submitted to God (NA, 3).”
Assuring them that the Vatican II statement was the “perspective” from which he viewed the dialogue, the Pope noted his efforts at continuing the dialogue from the beginning of his Pontificate.
Benedict specifically pointed out his comments at a meeting he had with some Muslim Leaders in Cologne at the very beginning of his Pontificate, last August.
“Inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is, in fact, a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends,” the Pope said at that time.
Benedict also mentioned two themes central to his Papacy – relativism and the place of reason as a transcendent and universal quality.
“In a world marked by relativism and too often excluding the transcendence and universality of reason, we are in great need of an authentic dialogue between religions and between cultures, capable of assisting us, in a spirit of fruitful co-operation, to overcome all the tensions together.”
Benedict said that he hopes the work of Christian-Muslim dialogue, advanced by his predecessor John Paul II, will not only continue, but also develop further “in a spirit of sincere and respectful dialogue, based on ever more authentic reciprocal knowledge which, with joy, recognizes the religious values that we have in common and, with loyalty, respects the differences.”
“Inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue is a necessity for building together this world of peace and fraternity ardently desired by all people of good will,” he said.
Pope Benedict clarified that while religious and political leaders should help Christians and Muslims work together, that all should remain faithful to the teachings of their own religious traditions.
Though subtle, the Holy Father also noted some areas which concern many Christians in their dealings with the Muslim world. He noted that it was a requirement of Christian and Muslim leaders to, “guard against all forms of intolerance and to oppose all manifestations of violence.” He also recalled the words of Pope John Paul II regarding the need for “reciprocity” between the cultures.
Speaking to Islamic young people at Casablanca, John Paul said “Respect and dialogue require reciprocity in all spheres, especially in that which concerns basic freedoms, more particularly religious freedom (no. 5).”
Benedict said the dialogue would promote, “the defense and promotion of the dignity of the human person and of the rights ensuing from that dignity.”
The Holy Father ended his address with a prayer for guidance from God in path to “authentic mutual understanding.”
According to the Vatican, participants in the meeting included heads of mission from Kuwait, Jordan, Pakistan, Qatar, Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Turkey, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Lebanon, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, Senegal, Algeria, Morocco, Albania, the Arab League, Syria, Tunisia, Libya, Iran and Azerbaijan. Also present were 14 members of the Islamic Council of Italy and representatives from the Italian Islamic Cultural Center and the Office of the World Muslim League.
Initial indications are that the meeting was well received by Muslim leaders.
Iraqi ambassador, Albert Edward Ismail Yelda, told the press that he is ready to move on. "I pray to almighty God the crisis will be behind us," he told reporters. "We need to sit together -- Muslims, Christians, Jews and the rest of the world, the rest of religions, in order to find common ground for peaceful coexistence."
Speaking to Reuters, Mario Scialoja, an adviser to the Italian section of the World Muslim League, said that the Holy Father offered a, “very good and warm speech.”
"He recalled the differences but expressed his willingness to continue in a cordial and fruitful dialogue, said Scialoja, who added that he "had not been expecting another apology."