VATICAN CITY – A group of diplomats from predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe will meet with top Vatican officials during an intensive three-week course on the Catholic Church.
The aim of the May 7-27 course is to help Muslim governments understand how the Vatican works, especially in diplomacy, and to familiarize participants with
the church and its network of social and humanitarian services.
The course, titled “The Catholic Church and International Politics of the Holy See,” was organized by two Rome-based Catholic organizations: the Gregorian University Foundation, which promotes pontifical universities, and the Jacques Maritain International Institute, a think tank.
Roberto Papini, head of the Jacques Maritain International Institute, said organizers hoped participants would become a small corps of “Vatican experts” who could facilitate mutual respect and understanding between Muslims and Catholics.
Diplomats have an important role to play as “peace workers,” since they often must mediate conflicts through dialogue, Papini told journalists at a May 3 press conference at the offices of Vatican Radio.
He said organizers wanted to do something different from the typical interreligious conference, which is attended just by scholars and experts who then “return home and things don’t change.” Organizers wanted to target top-level government diplomats who may have a more direct impact on policies, he said.
The course does not intend to teach the basic tenets of Catholicism; it is more about mapping out what the church does on a political and social level, Papini said.
He said that a lack of knowledge is most often the root cause of international misunderstandings and difficulties between a nation’s own faith communities. Muslim-Christian tensions do not represent “a clash of civilizations, it’s a clash of ignorance,” he said.
The course is intended to promote “a politics of transparency,” in which participants can come to Rome, talk to Vatican officials “and see what the Holy See really does, and how many things we have in common,” such as efforts to protect the unborn and promote social justice, he said.
Organizers said that of the 20 countries invited to send one representative only two declined: Oman and Tunisia.
Countries sending a representative include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, which do not have diplomatic relations with the Vatican, as well as Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Syria and Albania.
Most courses will be in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Vatican diplomats and officials, such as Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, and Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, as well as university professors and Italian politicians, were to speak at the courses.
While in Rome, participants will visit the city’s grand mosque, the largest mosque in Europe, the Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum and the city’s basilicas.
From May 20 to 27, participants will visit the northern Italian city of Turin, where they will visit many church-run charitable organizations and social centers that offer support to the city’s immigrants, many of whom are Muslim.