Observers predict revision in relations with Islam
After two decades of contact and dialogue with the Islamic world under Pope John Paul II, the Vatican is rethinking an approach that critics say has brought almost no benefits to persecuted Catholic minorities in Muslim countries.
The Washington Post reported last week that the late Pope undertook the drive as part of a broad effort to open channels to other religions. He applied a personal stamp by stepping into a mosque in Damascus and meeting with Muslim groups more than 60 times. He also visited a synagogue in Rome and Jerusalem's Western Wall.
Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, said the next pope might more emphatically demand rights for Christian minorities in Islamic countries and the freedom of all people to choose their faith.
"There may be a greater insistence on religious liberty," said Fitzgerald, the church's point man on Islamic relations. "But I don't think we're going to go to war. The times of the Crusades are over. . . . I don't see any fundamental change in the way the church has been dealing with these questions."
Justo Lacunza Balda, who heads the Pontifical Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies, said criticism was focused on the lack of reciprocal goodwill gestures in many Muslim countries. "Humanly speaking, it is of course important to see some payback," he said.
The Washington Post says many people in the Vatican view Christianity as under siege in parts of the world. They say that Christian populations are shrinking in countries in the Middle East in part because of long-term discrimination and repression by Muslim majorities. Catholic churches in Baghdad have been the targets of terrorist attacks; Christian communities are under physical attack by Muslims in Nigeria and the Philippines. Sub-Saharan Africa, the fastest-growing area for Catholicism, is also the fastest-growing for Islam.
But in the Muslim world, many people view the situation in reverse, believing that the Christian West, through movies and television, is reshaping the values of Islam and, through the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, taking over historically Muslim lands.
"The relationship among religions is probably the most significant" issue facing the next pope, said Fr Augustine DiNoia, the second-ranking official in the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is in charge of safeguarding orthodoxy. "The fundamental problem is how to value another religion without devaluing your own."
Meanwhile, in a feature published on Friday, Catholic News Service quoted Sheikh Muhammad Nur Abdullah, president of the Islamic Society of North America, who said he said he hoped the new pope would "continue this heritage and build on this trust ... to enrich what we already have."
Sayyid M. Syeed, general secretary of the Islamic Society of North America, said of Pope John Paul, "We have waited for a person of that stature for 1000 years." Under him Catholic-Muslim rapprochement made major advances and "it will be critical that every new pope builds on" those new foundations, he said.
But De La Salle Brother David Carroll, undersecretary general of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, said Catholic-Muslim relations today are marked by a mixture of very serious problems and hopeful openings that could augur major changes.
John Borelli of Georgetown University, who played a central role in developing the three official regional Catholic-Muslim dialogues in the United States, siad that on the diplomatic and political level, there is a need to address concerns of religious freedom and pastoral care for Christian minorities in some Islamic countries that deny religious rights to non-Muslims.
Vatican Is Rethinking Relations With Islam (Washington Post 15/4/05)
Observers say new pope must build on existing outreach to Islam (Catholic News Service 15/4/05)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue
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18 Apr 2005