Christians and Muslims Meet in D.C.

WASHINGTON (CNS) — A group of Christian and Muslim leaders, whose Catholic representatives included French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, issued “an interreligious call and commitment to action” March 3 following three days of dialogue sessions in Washington.

The document finalized at the end of the dialogue committed the leaders “to commit themselves to appeal to government and community leaders to promote peace and reconciliation efforts worldwide.”

“The worship of God, who demands serious moral purpose, is at the very core of Christianity and Islam,” it added. “Therefore, religious leaders must cooperatively work with each other and the political leaders in their respective countries.”

Over three days of what participants call cordial but “frank” and “intense” discussions, “around 12:30, 12:45, to borrow a phrase from the Vatican, the cloud of white smoke appeared from the Omni-Shoreham Hotel” in Washington where the dialogue sessions were being conducted, said Episcopal Canon John Peterson at a March 3 press conference introducing the document.

The document includes seven principles that undergird its plan of action. Among them are “Justice and equity are essential to peacemaking among individuals, families, communities and nations,” and “religion and faith can play a significant role in healing divisions and in shaping a just and inclusive society.”

Another principle discouraged proselytism, which some disdain for what can be seen as having coercive nature, while others contend their work is evangelization rather than proselytism. Asked at the press conference to define proselytism, Cardinal Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue at the Vatican, replied: “A lack of proportion. … Instead of proposing truth, you propose ideology. To impose rather than to propose.”

One of 10 items listed in the dialogue document’s plan of action was to “engage in practical interfaith programs at local, national, regional and global levels to promote the common good.”

After the press conference, Cardinal Tauran, in a brief interview with Catholic News Service, identified education as one such program. “Take all our Catholic schools we have in different countries” where Islam is the majority religion, he said. “Interreligious dialogue is a daily experience if they (Muslims) go” to Catholic schools.

Cardinal Tauran recalled one instance when he was in a Muslim-majority country and he was approached by a man who gave an unsolicited testimonial: “I am 35 years old and all I know is thanks to you, because I only went to Catholic schools,” the man said. “And I have never once been the object of proselytism.”

The other principal participants in the dialogue were Ayatollah Ahmad Iravani, a native of Iran who is president of the Center for the Study of Islam and the Middle East, who has been teaching for the past 10 years at the Catholic University of America, Washington, representing Shiite Muslims; Ahmad el-Tayeb, president of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, representing Sunni Muslims; and Episcopal Bishop John Bryson Chane of Washington, representing the Anglican Communion. The press conference and a later open forum were held at the Washington National Cathedral, which is under the care of the Episcopal Church.

Each participant was aided by a group of five advisers from their respective faiths.

Ayatollah Iravani was a late substitution for Ayatollah Seyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad of Iran. It was explained during the press conference that visa problems kept him from leaving Iran. Canon Peterson said the February snowstorms that crippled Washington delayed the processing of his visa application so that it was not available for him to pick up in Kuwait. But Richard Weinberg, a National Cathedral spokesman, told CNS before the press conference that “for his own safety, it was a choice of his not to leave Iran.”

“The three days was a kind of exceptional experience for myself,” Ayatollah Iravani said at the open forum. “We had a kind of intrafaith dialogue” between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in addition to the interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims, he added. Shiite-Sunni tensions have played out most explosively in Iran and neighboring Iraq.

In suggesting how to breach difficulties in the world, Ayatollah Iravani said, “Lots of people are crying for help. Each of us has to look at his own capacity and do as much as he can.”

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