Catholic-Muslim forum calls for religious freedom

By  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • November 10, 2008
VATICAN CITY - Christians and Muslims must work together to protect religious freedom, they must learn more about each other and they must witness to the world the reality of God, said members of the Catholic-Muslim Forum.

The forum participants, 28 Muslim and 28 Catholic representatives, met at the Vatican Nov. 4-6 to discuss their faiths' understanding of the obligation to love God and to love one's neighbour. The final statement said both Christians and Muslims recognize the dignity and sacredness of human life because each person is "created by a loving God."
Christianity and Islam teach that love for God and genuine faith lead to love for one's neighbour, it said, and "genuine love of neighbour implies respect of the person and her or his choices in matters of conscience and religion."

Religious minorities deserve protection, they have a right to their own places of worship and their sacred figures and symbols "should not be subject to any form of mockery or ridicule," the leaders said.

In an increasingly secularized and materialistic world, forum participants called on Catholics and Muslims to give witness to "the transcendent dimension of life." The leaders also said, "We profess that Catholics and Muslims are called to be instruments of love and harmony among believers, and for humanity as a whole, renouncing any oppression, aggression, violence and terrorism."

The forum, it said, will meet again in 2010 in a country with a Muslim majority, although the exact site has not been chosen.

Presenting the statement at the forum's public session Nov. 6 at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, Joseph Maila, a professor at the Catholic Institute of Paris, said the participants "came with humility to try to understand the other."

"This is risky," he said. "We risk exposing ourselves to the other by saying: 'This is what we believe. This is what we aim for,' while knowing the other can see the reality and where we are not measuring up."

Maila said the participants "discussed things that hurt us," including violence, prejudice, misinformation and instances where believers cannot fully exercise their faith.

"While we cannot be held responsible for the actions of those who commit violence in the name of our religion," he said, participants agreed that "we must take responsibility for giving an accurate portrayal of our religion" by denouncing those who would manipulate it.

Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America and a professor of Islamic studies at the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, said the 2007 letter of 138 Muslim scholars that led to the Catholic-Muslim Forum's foundation, was launched with "a sense of urgency, a sense that religion has become a source of conflict in an absolutely unacceptable way." Because, she said, the truth is that "every day millions of people engage in acts of piety, generosity and compassion out of their religious convictions. This good is done through two essential principles: love of God and love of neighbour."

Saying that the scholars participating in the forum represent "the broad mainstream of the Muslim world," Mattson said they promised to take the results back to their communities, to promote better relations with Christians and to work for greater respect for religious freedom for all people.

The event at the university allowed time for questions from the public and included a strong accusation that Muslims in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East are forcing all Christians to flee.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington and a Vatican-appointed member of the forum, said that, like the public session, the forum's closed-door meetings included "frank discussions, but frank discussions are important. If they are not frank, they are useless." At the same time, he said, the meeting was marked by "great charity" and a desire to get to know one another. In facing the real problems existing in the world, including lack of religious freedom, "we all have to work together. This is a long process. We have to keep working on it; we have to keep talking," McCarrick said.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told the group that "every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, millions of believers go to mosques, synagogues and churches" to renew their faith in God and strengthen their resolve to live a moral life.

"We need to show the world that people do not live by bread alone," but that moral living includes loving one's neighbour and reaching out to others with concrete acts of charity, he said.

"In the face of suffering humanity," Tauran said, "we must give witness to the fact that God has given us a heart, freedom and intelligence that we can use to build a better world."

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