The inaugural Catholic-Muslim Forum reached its culmination today with Pope Benedict XVI emphasizing that “only by starting with the recognition of the centrality of the person and the dignity of each human being” will Catholics and Muslims find common ground for building a “more fraternal world.”
The three day historic meeting between Muslims and Catholics was the fruit of a mutual desire for dialogue expressed by 138 Muslim leaders in a letter they sent in October 2007 and was reciprocated by a letter sent in the Pope’s name by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone in November 2007.
Over the past two days, Muslim and Catholic leaders have discussed the theme "Love of God, Love of Neighbor" from two main standpoints: "theological and spiritual fundamentals" and "the dignity of the human person and mutual respect."
Speaking in English to the assembled forum on Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI noted that the seminar "is an incentive for us to ensure that the reflections and the positive developments which emerge from Muslim-Christian dialogue are not limited to a small group of experts and scholars, but are passed on as a precious legacy to be placed at the service of all, to bear fruit in the way we live each day."
After noting that the meeting’s theme highlights “a central teaching of our respective religions,” the Holy Father delivered an explanation of how Christians believe that God is Love and that this love manifests itself in the mystery of the incarnation and the redemption.
“This infinite and eternal love enables us to respond by giving all our love in return: love for God and love for neighbor. This truth, which we consider foundational, was what I wished to emphasize in my first Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, since this is a central teaching of the Christian faith. Our calling and mission is to share freely with others the love which God lavishes upon us without any merit of our own,” the Pope explained.
"I was pleased to learn,” Pope Benedict said, “that you were able at this meeting to adopt a common position on the need to worship God totally and to love our fellow men and women disinterestedly, especially those in distress and need. God calls us to work together on behalf of the victims of disease, hunger, poverty, injustice and violence.” In addition, the Holy Father described how “for Christians the love of God is inseparably bound to the love ... of all men and women, without distinction of race and culture. ... The Muslim tradition is also quite clear in encouraging practical commitment in serving the most needy.”
At the same time, Benedict XVI stressed that, “Only by starting with the recognition of the centrality of the person and the dignity of each human being, respecting and defending life which is the gift of God, and is thus sacred for Christians and for Muslims alike - only on the basis of this recognition, can we find a common ground for building a more fraternal world, a world in which confrontations and differences are peacefully settled, and the devastating power of ideologies is neutralized.”
This belief in the fundamental rights of people needs to be “protected for all people everywhere,” the Pope said.
In order for human dignity to be respected in both the political and the religious realms, Pope Benedict emphasized that both sets of leaders must fully respect “individual's freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.”
“The discrimination and violence which even today religious people experience throughout the world, and the often violent persecutions to which they are subject, represent unacceptable and unjustifiable acts, all the more grave and deplorable when they are carried out in the name of God,” the Holy Father said.
The Pope also lambasted the way that religion is robbed of its credibility when it is coupled with violence. "God's name can only be a name of peace and fraternity, justice and love. We are challenged to demonstrate, by our words and above all by our deeds, that the message of our religions is unfailingly a message of harmony and mutual understanding. It is essential that we do so, lest we weaken the credibility and the effectiveness not only of our dialogue, but also of our religions themselves."
Concluding his address Pope Benedict reaffirmed the efforts of the Catholic-Muslim Forum saying, "let us unite our efforts, animated by good will, in order to overcome all misunderstanding and disagreements. 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; let us work with one another to educate all people, especially the young, to build a common future."