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Vatican official says Mary has appeal for other faiths

The Blessed Virgin Mary is a starting point for presenting the Christian message to believers of other religions, according to a Vatican official returning from an interfaith conference at Lourdes.

Cardinal Francis Arinze, President of the
Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, delivered a key address at last week's conference.

In an interview with Vatican Radio in Rome, he noted that Mary was a young Jewess, faithful to the tradition of her fathers. Yet, he said, it is interesting to note that the Koran, the sacred book of Islam, mentions her 34 times "always with great respect. She is regarded as a virgin, full of faith, obedient to God."

Buddhists do not have a figure that corresponds to the Virgin of Christian faith, but their religiosity appreciates the feminine values proper to Mary, such as compassion, maternity and piety, something that can help them understand her witness, Cardinal Arinze explained.

In Indian religions, there is also an image of feminine cult that includes femininity, maternity, fertility and piety, the cardinal added.

The conference at Lourdes was organised by the local diocese in cooperation with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. It gathered experts to study Mary's role in ecumenical dialogue and in relations among religions.

Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes and Lourdes, organiser of the event, told Zenit that since 1984 there has been a pavilion for the service "of Christian unity" in the shrine.

Bishop Perrier said he believes that this type of ecumenical initiative takes nothing away from the "Catholic specificity" of Marian devotion.

"The Catholic specificity in Lourdes is manifested not only in Marian devotion but also in the sacraments celebrated here, and the bishops and priests who exercise their ministry," he explained.