Christian and Muslim scholars issue statement on religious freedom, reports Cindy Wooden
CHRISTIANS and Muslims must work together to protect religious freedom, members of the CatholicMuslim Forum have said.
The forum participants, 28 Muslim and 28 Catholic representatives, met at the Vatican last week to discuss their faiths' understanding of the obligation to love God and to love one's neighbour.
The final statement said both Christians and Muslims recognise the dignity and sacredness of human life because each person is 'created by a loving God".
Christianity and Islam teach thzit love for Cod and genuine faith lead to love for one's neighbour, it said. and "genuine love of neighbour implies respect of the person and her or his choices in matters of conscience and religion".
Religious minorities deserve protection, they have a right to their own places of worship and their sacred figures and symbols "ahould not be subject to any fotm of mockery or ridicule", the leaders said.
In an increasingly secularised and materialistic world, forum participants called on Catholics and Muslims to give witness to "the transcendent dimension of life".
The leaders also said: "We profess that Catholics and Muslims are called to be instruments of love and harmony among believers, and for humanity as a whole, renouncing any oppression, aggression, violence and terrorism." •
The forum, it said, will meet again in 2010 in a country with a Muslim majority, although the exact site has not been chosen.
Presenting the statement at the forum's public session at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, Joseph Maila, a professor at the Catholic Institute of Paris, said the participants "came with humility to try to understand the other".
"This is risky," he said. "We risk exposing ourselves to the other by saying: 'This is what we believe. This is what we aim for.' while knowing the other can see... where we are not measuring up."
Prof Maila said the participants "discussed things that hurt us," including violence, prejudice, misinformation and instances where believers cannot fully exercise their faith. "While we cannot be held responsible for the actions of those who commit violence in the name of our religion," he said, participants agreed that "we must take responsibility for giving an accurate portrayal of our religion" by denouncing those who would manipulate it.
Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America and a professor of Islamic studies at the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, said the 2007 letter of 138 Muslim scholars that led to the forum was launched with "a sense of urgency, a sense that religion has become a source of conflict in an absolutely unacceptable way".
She said the truth is that "every day millions of people engage in acts of piety, generosity and compassion out of their religious convictions. This good is done through two essential principles: love of God and love of neighbour."
Saying that the scholars partici pating in the forum represent "the broad mainstream of the Muslim world" Prof Mattson said they promised to take the results back to their communities, to promote better relations with Christians and to work for greater respect for religious freedom for all people.
The event at the university allowed time for questions from the public and included a strong accusation that Muslims in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East were forcing all Christians to flee.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired Archbishop of Washington and a Vatican-appointed member of the forum, said that, like the public session, the forum's closed-door meetings included "frank discusses, but frank discussions are important. If they are not frank, they are useless."
At the same time, he said, the meeting was marked by "great charity" and a desire to get to know one another. In facing the real problems existing in the world, including lack of religious freedom, "we all have to work together. This is a long process. We have to keep working on it; we have to keep talking,Cardinal McCarrick said.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told the group that every week millions of believers renew their faith in God and strengthen their resolve to live a moral life.
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