Catholic Dialogue with Islam
Precisely while the accusations were erupting against Benedict XVI over Allam's baptism, the Saudi king not only ignored the accusations, but he expressed himself in diametrically opposite tones.
The Holy See expressed its point of view in a direct way in "L'Osservatore Romano" for March 25-26, with a note by the newspaper's director, Giovanni Maria Vian. And again with a statement on Vatican Radio, March 27, by its director, Fr Federico Lombardi.
But even more interesting are the indirect ways in which the Holy See rebutted the criticisms, during those same days.
The arena for these indirect responses was, once again, "L'Osservatore Romano."
On Thursday, March 27, the pope's newspaper dedicated an extensive article to the figure of Ramon Lull, a Franciscan who lived between the 13th and 14th centuries, a great expert on Arabic language and literature and an ardent promoter of a missionary preaching aimed at converting and baptizing Muslim populations in the Mediterranean countries dominated by Islam.
The title of the article – signed by a specialist on the topic, Sara Muzzi – was eloquent in its own right: "Raimondo Lullo e il dialogo tra le religioni. Se ti mostro la verità finirai con l'abbracciarla [Raymon Lull and dialogue among religions. If I show you the truth, you will end up embracing it]."
In effect, as shown also by his books, Lull struggled to promote a peaceful form of missionary preaching, entirely founded on understanding between the two faiths, on the power of conviction and on the rational argumentation of truth.
Two days later, on Saturday, March 29, "L'Osservatore Romano" dedicated two articles to two instances of dialogue between the Catholic Church and Islam, demonstrating how this dialogue is showing promising developments precisely during the days of the controversy over the baptism of Allam, administered by the pope.
The first promising sign concerns Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world. On March 8 and 9, a meeting was held in Yogyakarta between Christian and Muslim representatives, with the presence of Buddhists and Hindus, on how the religions can work together in responding to the challenges posed by globalization.
Moreover, during the period of Easter, in the capital of Jakarta 35 authoritative ulemas from as many Islamic schools launched an appeal that the instruction given to Muslim young men be carried out in a correct and respectful form, free from any justification of violence. The title of the article: "In Indonesia, efforts at dialogue between Christians and Muslims."
But "L'Osservatore Romano" gave greater emphasis, on the same page, to some of the recent events in Saudi Arabia, under the title: "The Saudi king for an encounter 'with our brothers in faith'. Abdullah, in the face of the crisis of ethical values, opens up to dialogue with Christians and Jews."
At the beginning of the article, the Vatican newspaper quoted Abdullah:
"I have had an idea that has obsessed me for two years. The world is suffering, and this crisis has caused an imbalance in religion, in ethics, and in all of humanity. [...] We have lost faith in religion and respect for humanity. The disintegration of the family and the widespread atheism in the world are frightening phenomena that all of the religions must take into account and overcome. [...]
For this reason, I have thought of inviting religious authorities to express their views of what is happening in the world, and, God willing, we will begin to organize meetings to with our brothers who belong to the monotheistic religions, among representatives of believers in the Qur'an, the Gospel, and the Bible."
The Vatican newspaper added that the proposal of King Abdullah has met with the agreement of the leading Muslim scholars of the kingdom.
But the most interesting highlights added by "L'Osservatore Romano" are two others.
The first concerns the date of the statement made by Abdallah: March 24, which for Christians was Easter Monday.
This is to say: precisely while the accusations were erupting against Benedict XVI over Allam's baptism, the Saudi king not only ignored the accusations, but he expressed himself in diametrically opposite tones.
The second highlight presented by the pope's newspaper is the following passage:
"Intercultural and interreligious dialogue; collaboration among Christians, Muslims and Jews for the promotion of peace. These are the topics that, on November 6, 2007, were at the center of the meeting in the Vatican between Benedict XVI and Abdullah, who was received in audience with his entourage.
During the historic meeting – it was the first visit of a Saudi sovereign to the pope – mention was also made of the positive presence of the Christian community in the country (representing about 3 percent of an almost entirely Muslim population). Several days ago, the government of Riyadh decided to begin refresher courses for forty thousand imams, in the attempt to foster a more moderate interpretation of Islam and to discourage the extremists."
He who has ears to hear, let him hear. In the judgment of the Church of Rome, the dialogue with Islam is not limited to the follow-up to the letter of the 138 – one of whose leading exponents, Aref Ali Nayed, has directed extremely harsh criticism against the pope for having baptized Allam – but is developed in multiple areas, some of which it believes are more promising than others.
As for Benedict XVI, it is increasingly evident that both his lecture in Regensburg and his decision to baptize a convert from Islam at the Easter vigil in St. Peter's are not gestures of rupture, but, on the contrary, are precisely that which makes intelligible and unequivocal – for Muslims just as for Christians – his desire for dialogue, expressed for example in his silent prayer at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, and in his warm encounter with the king of Saudi Arabia.
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Chiesa is a wonderful source on all things Catholic in Europe. It is skillfully edited by Sandro Magister. SANDRO MAGISTER was born on the feast of the Guardian Angels in 1943, in the town of Busto Arsizio in the archdiocese of Milan. The following day he was baptized into the Catholic Church. His wife’s name is Anna, and he has two daughters, Sara and Marta. He lives in Rome.
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