Dialogue between Muslims and Catholics entered a new phase today as Pope Benedict replied to the October 13 letter from the 138 Muslims leaders and proposed that the dialogue be centered on human dignity and religious freedom.
The Pope’s reply to the Muslim initiative, "A Common Word between Us and You", was sent to Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, president of the Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought and one of the signatories of the original letter. According to the Holy See Press Office, the letter was written by Benedict XVI and signed by the Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
The interesting twist in the Pope’s proposal for dialogue is that he has insisted on changing the context of the talks. While the Muslim leaders’ letter framed future dialogue around the twofold commandment to love God and one’s neighbor, Benedict XVI’s reply suggests a change in the terms of discussion.
According to the Holy Father’s letter to the prince, the path to true dialogue lies in “effective respect for the dignity of every human person, on objective knowledge of the religion of the other, on the sharing of religious experience and, finally, on common commitment to promoting mutual respect and acceptance among the younger generation.”
The letter also explained that Pope Benedict believes that this tack will lay a foundation for fruitful dialogue. The reply quoted a speech by the Holy Father in Cologne: "I am profoundly convinced that we must not yield to the negative pressures in our midst, but must affirm the values of mutual respect, solidarity and peace. The life of every human being is sacred, both for Christians and for Muslims. There is plenty of scope for us to act together in the service of fundamental moral values.”
Vatican analyst Sandro Magister explained a few days ago how Pope Benedict’s approach is fundamentally different than the proposals of the original Muslim letter.
Drawing on what he sees as the clearest example of the Holy Father’s approach to Catholic-Muslim dialogue, Magister cited the Pope’s pre-Christmas address to the Roman curia on December 22, 2006:
"In a dialogue to be intensified with Islam, we must bear in mind the fact that the Muslim world today is finding itself faced with an urgent task. This task is very similar to the one that has been imposed upon Christians since the Enlightenment, and to which the Second Vatican Council, as the fruit of long and difficult research, found real solutions for the Catholic Church.”
He summarized Benedict’s methodology writing, “The pope is asking Islam to make the same journey that the Catholic Church made under pressure from the Enlightenment. Love of God and neighbor must be realized in the full acceptance of religious freedom”, writes the Vatican analyst.
The way forward proposed by the letter includes numerous channels of dialogue, such as, the “willingness [of the Pope] to receive Prince Ghazi and a delegation of the signatories of the letter” and “the readiness of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, in collaboration with other specialized pontifical institutes, to organize a working meeting.”