Catholics and Muslims pursue dialogue amid Mideast tension

November 25, 2011

(Archbishop and mufti at the Catholic-Muslim Forum, 24 Nov 2011/Tom Heneghan)

Only five years ago, critical remarks by Pope Benedict about Islam sparked off violent protests in several Muslim countries. Never very good, relations between the world’s two largest religions sank to new lows in modern times.

This week, while protesters in the Arab world were demanding democracy and civil rights, Catholics and Muslims met along the Jordan River for frank and friendly talks about their differences and how to get beyond their misunderstandings.

The Catholic-Muslim Forum, which grew out of the tensions following Benedict’s speech in the German city of Regensburg, was overshadowed by events in Egypt, Yemen and Syria. The lack of any dramatic news here reflected the progress the two sides have made since 2006.

“We have passed from formal dialogue to a dialogue between friends,” Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Vatican’s department for interfaith dialogue, said at the conference held near the Jordan River site believed to be where Jesus was baptised. “We realised that we have a common heritage,”

(The Baptism Site in Jordan, 23 Nov 2011/Tom Heneghan)

Recalling the strains that prompted Muslims to suggest a dialogue in 2007, Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal said: “Since then, despite some misunderstandings, I dare say the general Muslim-Catholic ambiance has ameliorated considerably.”

The 24 Catholic and 24 Muslim religious leaders, scholars and educators meeting here debated how each religion uses reason to strengthen insight into its beliefs. Roman Catholicism has long argued that faith without reason can breed superstition while nihilism can emerge from reason without faith.

This was the core message of Benedict’s Regensburg speech, but it was drowned out when he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor describing Islam as violent and irrational. Radical Islamists responded with violent protests.

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