(Photo: delegation heads Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran (l) and Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric (r) chat at the start of the Catholic- Muslim Forum on 4 Nov 2008 at the Vatican/ pool photo provided by Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano)
Any thoughts that the first Catholic-Muslim Forum here in Rome might blur fundamental differences in the interests of harmony dissolved on Tuesday when the Vatican side opened the discussion with a clear presentation of the Christian teaching that people can only approach God through Jesus Christ. There was hardly a better way to show the gap that separates the Christians and Muslims who have embarked on the “Common Word” dialogue process. The Muslim side naturally disagreed and said this radical focus on Christ closed off all options for salvation to Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and any other non-Christians. What followed, delegates to the closed-door conference reported, was not a clash but a discussion described as cordial, respectful and aimed at a better understanding of how each side understands the concept of God’s love for humanity. “There were some sceptical Catholic comments before this meeting, and the opening presentation was classic Christian doctrine, but there were nuances in what different Catholic delegates said in the discussion,” one Muslim delegate said. “The best part is the openness,” another said. “There is an aspect of mutual respect, which is what we need.”
Read our news story on the meeting here.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the top Vatican official for relations with Islam and source of several sceptical Catholic comments since the Common Word was launched just over a year ago, reiterated the Vatican’s commitment to dialogue with the Muslims.
There’s a news blackout on the closed-door meetings until after the delegations meet Pope Benedict on Thursday, so off-the-record comments from delegates are all we have to go on for the moment. But it seems the Forum has got off to a good start. Wednesday could turn out to be more difficult because the Vatican has insisted on a frank discussion of religious freedom, which naturally brings up persecution of and restrictions on Christians in Muslim countries.
Among the published comments by delegates before the meeting began was one from Tariq Ramadan entitled “Why I’m going to meet the Pope.”