PONTIFICAL COUNCIL for INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE

1st Seminar of the Catholic-Muslim Forum

Opening Address - Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran

4 November 2008 

Dear Friends, 

It is for me a privilege and a joy to welcome you for this meeting which is another step on our path of dialogue. May I invite you to give a special thought for those of our delegations who have been prevented from being with us this morning, due to illness. We remember them in our prayers and we offer them our best wishes for a quick recovery.

 We are here gathered in our quality of believers. Believers who are aware of their mission in today's world in which, because of material and human precariousness, the dangers of war, the hazards of the environment, the financial crisis, men and women of this generation are once again asking themselves the essential questions on the meaning of life and death, on the meaning of history and of the consequences that amazing scientific discoveries might bring in their wake. The II Vatican Council declaration on the relationship between the Catholic Church and the other religions Nostra Aetate already underlined that: "Men look to their different religions for an answer to the unresolved riddles of human existence. The problems that weigh heavily on the hearts of men are the same today as in the past ages. What is man? What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is upright behaviour? And what is sinful? Where does suffering originate and what end does it serve? How can genuine happiness be found? (N.1)"

 All that in order to say that we are not here for an academic discussion but to cope with very concrete issues which have to be enlightened by our religious convictions. We will try to use a common language but we shall honestly present our own positions. We are inspired by the will to do our utmost to understand the other's point of view. We know that each religion has its own identity but this identity does not prevent us from taking the religion of the other in to consideration. Most of us are veterans of interreligious dialogue and we know that identity, otherness and dialogue go together.

 It is why, as you have seen in our program, a large amount of time has been left free for open discussion and for friendly interchange. Pope Benedict XVI who made of interreligious dialogue one of the priorities of his pontificate, stated that the purpose of interreligious dialogue is "to examine God's mystery in the light of our respective religious traditions and wisdom so as to discern the values likely to illuminate the men and women of all the peoples on earth, whatever their culture or religion... Our respective religious traditions all insist on the sacred character of life, of the dignity of the human person... Together with all the people of goodwill, we aspire to peace. That is why I insist once again: interreligious and intercultural research and dialogue are not an option but a vital need for our time."

(Meeting with the President of the Religious Affairs Directorate, Conference Room of the "Diyanet", Ankara, 28 November 2006)

 It is my hope that after having reflected about the love of God and the love of our brothers and sisters, we shall be more convinced than ever that, as it is said, Muslims and Christians who represent more than 55% of humanity, constitute a tremendous resource of fraternity for today's societies. The Name of God is the name of peace. Religions must be schools of brotherhood. Authentic believers can do a lot for the common good, for harmony in the societies of which they are members. I should also add that religious leaders must be peacemakers and teach the pedagogy of peace in the family, in the mosque, in church, at school, at university. In such a context, it is easy to understand that such ancient and thorny subjects like human rights, in particular freedom of conscience and religion, reciprocity also with regards to places of worship cannot be put into brackets. We all believe that we have been gifted by God with a heart, an intelligence, freedom and responsibility, and we can -1 should say we must - do our best to contribute to the realization of the project of the Creator: that is to say, make of humanity a family with all that is implied in terms of effective respect and acceptance of the other.

 So once again, welcome to the Vatican. Let us invoke God's blessing on our persons, on our communities, on our work. May we be credible heralds of the One God who cares for us and asks us to do our best in order that He be glorified by the behaviour of those who believe in Him!