Westminster Interfaith: Promoting Dialogue Between People of Faith

The agency of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster for Interreligious Dialogue

Westminster Interfaith Newsletter

Issue 60 – January 2009

Dialogue between Christians and Muslims

Throughout the year, there were many local and international encounters between Christians and Muslims, among which was the long awaited Catholic-Muslim Forum, which met in Rome at the beginning of November, to discuss the theme: "Love of God, Love of Neighbour". The Forum was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and brought together delegates from the 138 Muslim intellectuals and religious leaders who signed an open letter to Christian leaders in 2007. Cardinal Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council, headed the Catholic delegation, which included German Jesuit Islam expert Fr Christian Troll, author of "Muslims ask, Christians Answer" and bishops based in Lebanon, Pakistan, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. Cardinal Tauran considered that the most important of the 15 points agreed at the Forum was the one which stated that religious minorities have a right to "practise their faith in private and public" and to have their own houses of worship. The declaration also called for respect for personal "choices in matters of conscience and religion".

Also in Rome, but in October, at the Focolare Centre, some 200 Muslims and Christians met to discuss "Love and Mercy in the Bible and in the Koran". In a telegram, Pope Benedict XVI expressed the hope that the conference gave rise to "renewed cordial resolutions of fraternity and sincere commitments, in favour of mutual dialogue in respect of every human person's dignity". The Pope also invoked "the most high and merciful God to continue always guiding the steps of humanity on the path of justice and peace". Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, addressed the participants on the first day stating that interreligious dialogue "does not attempt to establish . . . a minimalist common base of religious truths", but "recognizes that everyone in search of God or the Absolute has the same dignity". He added that "thanks above all to Muslims", there was "a return of religion to the world scene". He said that dialogue between religions should be considered "almost like a pilgrimage", because "when one dialogues with a follower of another religion, it is necessary to take the attitude of someone who embarks on a path with that follower, and takes into consideration convictions about the great questions that confront every person, which are distinct from one's own". Finally, he said that it was not one's own faith that had to be questioned but rather the way of living it in daily life.

Towards the end of October, a Christian-Muslim Conference was being held in Mechelin, Belgium, on "Being a citizen of Europe and a person of faith". This conference brought together around 45 Muslims and Christians from 16 countries of Europe. The organisers of the meeting were the Committee for Relations with Muslims in Europe of the European Bishops' Conferences and the Conference of European Churches. It occurred as an event within the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue and the 60th anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights. It was supported financially by the European Union.

Members of the conference affirmed that Christians and Muslims were citizens and believers not citizens or believers and they pledged to work hand in hand with the state to which they belonged and to build bridges across cultures and faiths. In conclusion, they said, "Europe is called to be a laboratory of learning for both Muslims and Christians".

In London, St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace is at the heart of the dialogue with Islam and other faiths. Many courses and meetings between Christians and Muslims take place there. The Centre is located in an ancient Anglican church, which was destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1993 and later rebuilt as a space for experimental encounter between faiths. Close to the old building is a Bedouin tent, a place where people from different faiths come together to "explore differences, transform conflicts, and to build firm foundations for collaboration".

Jon

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