BERLIN (CNS) — Believers in God have a contribution to make toward building a better world marked by respect for each human being, Pope Benedict XVI told representatives of Germany’s Muslim communities.
“As believers, setting out from our respect convictions, we can offer an important witness in many key areas of life in society,” including “the protection of the family based on marriage, respect for life in every phase of its natural course or the promotion of greater social justice,” the pope said.
He met Sept. 23 with 15 Muslim representatives — men and women — in a small meeting room at the apostolic nunciature in Berlin.
Officials of the German bishops’ conference said they tried to invite people who could represent the variety present among the almost 4.5 million Muslims living in Germany. About 70 percent of the country’s Muslims are of Turkish origin; the others come from Arabic countries, the Balkans and Iran.
Pope Benedict said the importance many Muslims give the role of religion in their lives is thought-provoking in a country that “tends to marginalize religion or, at most, to assign it a place among the individual’s personal choices.”
While real differences exist between Muslims and Christians, he said, mutual respect exists and grows where believers meet one another and work together to promote and protect the dignity of each human being and other basic ethical values.
“It is inconceivable, in fact, that a society could survive in the long term without consensus on fundamental ethical values,” the pope said.
Pope Benedict told the Muslim leaders that he convoked a large interreligious meeting for peace in Assisi, Italy, Oct. 27 to reiterate the important role religion can play in modern society.
“Through this gathering, we wish to express, with simplicity, that we believers have a special contribution to make toward building a better world, while acknowledging that if our actions are to be effective, we need to grow in dialogue and mutual esteem,” he said.
Mouhanad Khorchide, a Lebanese-born professor of Islam at the University of Munster, spoke on behalf of the Muslim leaders and encouraged greater exchanges between Catholic and Muslim theologians so they can help their followers recognize values they hold in common.
While Christians would describe God’s primary attribute as love and Muslims would use the term mercy, both recognize they have a religious obligation to reflect those attributes in the way they live and treat others, he said.
“God, therefore, reveals himself in love and mercy experienced and lived here and now in this world,” he said.
Love and mercy are the criteria by which Christians and Muslims discern whether or not something is good and godly, Khorchide said.