VATICAN CITY – By inviting a varied group of Muslim scholars to meet with him, Pope Benedict XVI has opened the possibility for a higher-level dialogue between Catholic and Muslim leaders, the Vatican newspaper said.
The newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, commented Nov. 30 on a letter to the pope from 138 Muslim scholars and the pope’s invitation in response.
The newspaper quoted German Jesuit Father Christian Troll, a scholar of Islam, who said that the 138 scholars represent a wide and diverse portion of the world’s Muslim community, and the fact that they were able to write to the pope together is important.
The letter, Father Troll said, is an initiative “which the church can only look favorably upon because it needs a skilled dialogue with the non-Christian world.”
L’Osservatore said, “The pope’s response opens concrete horizons for this hope.”
The pope’s invitation, released Nov. 29 at the Vatican, included a suggestion that the scholars hold a working meeting with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and with experts from Rome’s Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies and from the Pontifical Gregorian University.
The former president of the Gregorian institute promoting interreligious dialogue and the study of Islam, Jesuit Father Daniel Madigan, said, “It is very important that there has now been a clear acknowledgment of the approaches made by these Muslim scholars.”
Father Madigan, a visiting fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University in Washington, said the affirmation in the papal response that “we can and, therefore, should look to what unites us” counters an all-too-common attitude claiming “we should look first at what divides us.”
He also said, “It is significant that the pope does not simply engage with the letter of the 138 in an impersonal way at the level of ideas, but invites the parties to meet and proposes the beginnings of a process.”
While the pope said the purpose of Catholic-Muslim dialogue is to promote “justice and peace in society and throughout the world,” said Father Madigan, “the theological aspect of this is essential because our visions of justice, peace and society are all formed by our belief – we cannot avoid talking about it.”