Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pope to Muslims: C'mon Down

Last month, a group of 138 Muslim leaders released an open letter to Pope Benedict in response to the pontiff's September 2006 lecture at Regensburg.

Writing that his "is arguably the single most influential voice in continuing to move" Christian-Muslim relations "forward in the direction of mutual understanding," the group said it joined Benedict's "desire for frank and sincere dialogue and recognize[s] its importance in an increasingly interconnected world."

In that light, the writers said their letter was also intended to "point out some errors in the way [Benedict] mentioned Islam as a counterpoint to the proper use of reason, as well as some mistakes in the assertions" advanced by the Pope in the controversial address at the German university.

Presented in London and Washington, the group's letter attracted a significant amount of attention in the global press, as a Vatican response was awaited. The note even came up at last week's pre-consistory meeting of the college of cardinals.

Earlier this week, the newly-elevated Senegalese Cardinal Theodore-Adrien Sarr of Dakar indicated that a "positive" response was at hand. Noted for his own good relations with Muslims -- who comprise 95% of the population at home -- Sarr told Reuters that the church "will not miss this oppportunity."

And this morning, a late announcement from the Holy See revealed the response, signed by the Cardinal-Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone. The letter was addressed to Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, a Jordanian academic thought to be the leader of the effort.

From the Vatican, November 19, 2007

Your Royal Highness,

On 13 October 2007 an open letter addressed to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and to other Christian leaders was signed by one hundred and thirty-eight Muslim religious leaders, including Your Royal Highness. You, in turn, were kind enough to present it to Bishop Salim Sayegh, Vicar of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem in Jordan, with the request that it be forwarded to His Holiness.

The Pope has asked me to convey his gratitude to Your Royal Highness and to all who signed the letter. He also wishes to express his deep appreciation for this gesture, for the positive spirit which inspired the text and for the call for a common commitment to promoting peace in the world.

Without ignoring or downplaying our differences as Christians and Muslims, we can and therefore should look to what unites us, namely, belief in the one God, the provident Creator and universal Judge who at the end of time will deal with each person according to his or her actions. We are all called to commit ourselves totally to him and to obey his sacred will.

Mindful of the content of his Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est ("God is Love"), His Holiness was particularly impressed by the attention given in the letter to the twofold commandment to love God and one’s neighbour.

As you may know, at the beginning of his Pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI stated: "I am profoundly convinced that we must not yield to the negative pressures in our midst, but must affirm the values of mutual respect, solidarity and peace. The life of every human being is sacred, both for Christians and for Muslims. There is plenty of scope for us to act together in the service of fundamental moral values" (Address to Representatives of Some Muslim Communities, Cologne, 20 August 2005). Such common ground allows us to base dialogue on effective respect for the dignity of every human person, on objective knowledge of the religion of the other, on the sharing of religious experience and, finally, on common commitment to promoting mutual respect and acceptance among the younger generation. The Pope is confident that, once this is achieved, it will be possible to cooperate in a productive way in the areas of culture and society, and for the promotion of justice and peace in society and throughout the world.

With a view to encouraging your praiseworthy initiative, I am pleased to communicate that His Holiness would be most willing to receive Your Royal Highness and a restricted group of signatories of the open letter, chosen by you. At the same time, a working meeting could be organized between your delegation and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, with the cooperation of some specialized Pontifical Institutes (such as the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies and the Pontifical Gregorian University). The precise details of these meetings could be decided later, should this proposal prove acceptable to you in principle.

I avail myself of the occasion to renew to Your Royal Highness the assurance of my highest consideration.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone
Secretary of State