By Francis X. Rocca
Religion News Service
VATICAN CITY — Muslim leaders who attended an interfaith peace conference with Pope Benedict XVI chided the pope for not responding to a recent olive branch from Muslim scholars, and complained that the reaction of a high Vatican official “misses the very point of dialogue.”
Their complaints stem from an open letter, signed by 138 Muslim scholars and clerics on Oct. 13, which invoked the common principles of “love of the One God, and love of the neighbor” as the ultimate basis for peace between Muslims and Christians.
Several Protestant leaders welcomed that letter, among them the heads of the Anglican Communion, World Council of Churches, Lutheran World Federation and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.
But “Muslims are still awaiting a proper response from H.H. Pope Benedict XVI for this unprecedented initiative,” read a communique from “Muslim scholars” who attended the 21st International Meeting for Peace in Naples, Italy. Benedict attended the session’s opening day on Sunday (Oct. 21).
The Naples conference brought together more than 300 international religious leaders, including the archbishop of Canterbury, the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople, the chief rabbi of Israel, and several representatives of Islam, Buddhism, Shintoism and Zoroastrianism.
The communique pointedly objected to comments by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, who told a French newspaper that Muslims’ belief that the Quran is the literal word of God makes theological dialogue with Christians “difficult.”
“This attitude, it seems to Muslims, misses the very point of dialogue,” the communique stated. “Dialogue is by definition between people of different views, not people of the same view.”
Recalling the “interfaith work of the late Pope John Paul II,” the communique suggested that under Benedict, the Vatican has become less open to relations with other faiths.
Even an annual greeting to Muslims at the end of Ramadan, “kindly established during the time of John Paul II, has been made polemical of late,” the communique said.
This year’s greeting, from Tauran, denounced terrorism and affirmed the right to “freedom of religious practice” — an indirect reference to Vatican concerns about religious freedom for Christians in Islamic countries.
John L. Esposito, director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, said the contents of the communique “were mentioned orally to the pope over lunch and handed personally to Cardinal Tauran by Sheikh Ibrahim Izzedin,” a signatory of the original Oct. 13 letter, who sat at Benedict’s table at lunch on Sunday.
The authors of the communique “felt the need to respond directly to Cardinal Tauran’s statement and also to issue a corrective response for the record,” said Esposito, a Catholic scholar of Islam who participated in the public presentation of the original letter.
“There is a feeling among Muslim scholars, and others involved in inter-religious dialogue, that the Vatican is withdrawing and becoming more entrenched,” Esposito said, noting that Benedict left Naples before the formal start of the three-day conference. “(The Muslim scholars) want to keep the conversation going.”
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