From Venice, more Catholic support for Muslim dialogue appeal

October 18, 2007

Cardinal Angelo Scola, Patriarch of VeniceThe Vatican is taking its time to study the dialogue appeal from 138 Muslim scholars before giving an official reply, but the Catholic Church’s Islam and inter-faith experts seem to be lining up to comment on it. After Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, S.J. yesterday, Cardinal Angelo Scola has given his positive analysis of it today. Since taking his post in 2002 as Patriarch of Venice, a city that has had extensive trading links to the East for centuries, the former rector of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome has started up the Studium Generale Marcianum institute to study Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim culture. He also launched a unique biannual review named Oasis to foster Christian-Muslim understanding. It publishes reports and reviews in four separate bilingual editions — Italian and Arabic, French and Arabic, English and Arabic and English and Urdu.

In a front-page interview with the Milan daily Il Foglio (here in Italian), Scola said the call for dialogue took a realistic approach and the number and prominence of its signatories were impressive. Scola said he was also impressed “by the fact, probably without precedent, that the quotes concerning Jesus Christ were taken from the Gospels and not from the Koran. … It is a very encouraging signal, since it demonstrates that good will and dialogue can overcome prejudices. It is a spiritual reflection on the love of God.”

“The document, set in the perspective of the double love of God and neighbour, highlights a part of Muslim tradition that has been partially overshadowed by the growth of fundamentalism,” he said. “The Muslim leaders identify themselves with those ‘others’ of whom Jesus said: ‘those who are not against us are with us’.” Between the lines, he said, could also be read a condemnation of terrorism.

Oasis review Scola said the text was of necessity limited in its scope. “We shouldn’t ask more of this document that it can give,” he said. “It is only the prelude to a theological dialogue that, in an atmosphere of great mutual esteem, proposes to investigate the contents of these two pillars (the love of the one God and the love of one’s neighbour) in the two religious traditions.”

Asked if Pope Benedict’s Regensburg speech had triggered this reaction, the cardinal said: “Surely the pope’s speech set off some very interesting dynamics within Islam. As the signatories recognise, the interconnections between Christians and Muslims in today’s world make it impossible to put off taking a position regarding the problem of the coexistence of different faiths … The document indicates an important starting point for an authentic dialogue.”

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