Catholic-Muslim talks work to prevent use of religion to justify violence


Catholics and Muslims recently concluded a meeting in Cairo, Egypt, where they discussed ways to prevent the manipulation of religion to justify violence. The two groups also reaffirmed their commitment to pursuing policies of peace, promotion of respect and dialogue and fraternity in their communities.

Members of the Joint Committee for Dialogue of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue and the Permanent Committee of al-Azhar for Dialogue among the Monotheistic Religions were convened from Feb. 23-24 in the Egyptian capital for their 2010 meetings.

The theme, "The phenomenon of confessional violence: understanding the phenomenon and its causes, and proposing solutions with particular reference to the role of religions in this field," provided parameters for discussions over the two days.

Results of the meetings included a joint agreement on the recommendations of seeking greater awareness of the "fact that manipulation of religion for political or other ends can be a source of violence." They also expressed their mutual interest in avoiding “discrimination on the basis of religious identity” and in ways to open “hearts to mutual forgiveness and reconciliation.”

The Muslim and Catholic groups also sought recognition of similarities and respect for differences "as the prerequisite of a culture of dialogue, based on shared values."

According to the report, both called for a renewed commitment "to recognizing and respecting the dignity of each human being, without distinction of ethnicity or religion; for religious discrimination in all fields to be opposed" through just laws guaranteeing fundamental equality.

Citing ways that Catholics and Muslims can oppose “with determination any act that tends to create tension, division and conflict in societies,” the committee listed the promotion of a “culture of mutual respect and dialogue through education in families, schools, churches and mosques” and opposing “attacks against religions by social communications media, especially satellite channels, considering the dangerous effects these transmissions can have on social cohesion and peace among religious communities."

The recommendations closed with mutual agreement to take measures "to ensure that the preaching of religious leaders, as well as school education and textbooks, do not contain declarations or references to historical events that, directly or indirectly, may arouse violent reactions among the followers of different religions."

At the conclusion of the sessions, a joint declaration was signed between the president of the Permanent Committee for Dialogue, Sheikh Muhammad Abd al-Aziz Wasil, and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.

The declaration documents the gratitude shown by Cardinal Tauran to Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, grand imam of Al-Azhar, for his condemnation of the violence that took place in the Egyptian town of Naga Hamadi on Orthodox Christmas this earlier year. The drive-by shooting took the lives of 6 Christians and a Muslim police officer.

Cardinal Tauran also thanked the imam for expressing his "solidarity with the victims' families" and reaffirming equal "rights and duties for all citizens, regardless of religion." Sheikh Tantawi responded that "he only did what he thought his duty in the face of those tragic events."

Next year's meeting will take place on the same dates.