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Pope Francis Wednesday (April 5) held a private audience with a delegation of four Imams from England who were accompanied by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster. 

Pope Francis told the imams that listening to each other was essential for the common future of humanity as we walk together in our shared lives.

“What we should do to make the human nature better, it’s the work of the ear, the work of listening. To listen to one another amongst us. To listen to one another without making any haste to give a response. To listen to the voice of a brother or a sister and think about it before we give a response. But the most important thing is the capacity to listen.”

Moulana Muhammad Shahid Raza,  Chairman, British Muslim Forum, told the Pope: “Today we are making history. We bring you on behalf, the message of peace and understanding and cooperation.”

Earlier, Cardinal Nichols greeted the pope, thanking him for receiving the audience. The cardinal said: “I also hope that this moment will help the voice of authentic Islam to be heard clearly. We look forward to our continuing promotion of collaboration at a local level at the service of all in society.”

The Rome Reports News Agency quoted Card Nichols as saying: “I think at this time that Christian-Muslim dialogue is particularly important and in a strange way, Catholic-Muslim dialogue in Britain is very important, because the history of the Catholic community in Britain is one of being a minority and of having lived with 400 years of anti-Catholic prejudice.”

The Agency said the goal of the visit was to engage in inter-religious dialogue with the Muslim community, allowing both religions to not only speak, but be heard by the neighboring party, both on the part of the Imams, and Pope Francis and Card. Nichols.

The Rome Reports pointed out that the acceptance of others by Pope Francis is also practiced by Card. Nichols who believes that there is a pathway to be walked toward tolerance of religions in the UK and right now, Catholics want to share their story with the Muslim world.

Cardinal Nichols was also quoted by the Rome Reports as saying that in the UK, Catholicism was originally a banned faith, then persecuted against, reluctantly given space, and now finally is an accepted faith and a major contributor to society.

History has been made at the Vatican and there are many more opportunities for this to continue as the pope has trips to Egypt and Bangladesh planned this year, to carry on this dialogue with the Muslim community at large, says Rome Reports.

It may be recalled that  Pope Francis received in audience in the Vatican on May 23, 2016,  the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Muhammad Al-Tayyib.  The Director of the Vatican Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi said that the Pope and Grand Imam noted “the great significance of this new meeting in the framework of dialogue between the Catholic Church and Islam.”

Later this month Pope Francis will travel to Cairo and will visit the Al Azhar University.

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Francis Christian-Muslim dialogue is juxtaposition to his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI who in October 2007 rebuffed a massive outreach effort by 138 Muslim religious leaders and scholars who sent him a letter to in an attempt to improve Christian-Muslim relations.

The letter, titled “A Common Word Between Us and You,” which was also addressed to Christianity’s other most powerful leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the heads of the Lutheran, Methodist and Baptist churches, sought to recognize similarities between Islam and Christianity as a way of fostering mutual understanding and respect between the two religions.

It compared texts from the Bible and the Quran to argue that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Both believe in “the primacy of total love and devotion to God,” and both value love of neighbor and a peaceful world.

In a response to the letter, Pope Benedict’s spokesman, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, said that a real theological debate with Muslims was difficult as they saw the Quran as the literal word of God. “Muslims do not accept that one can discuss the Quran in depth, because they say it was written by dictation from God. With such an absolute interpretation, it is difficult to discuss the contents of faith.”

Another reading of his comments suggests that the Vatican does not want a dialogue with Muslims unless they change their belief in Quran as a revealed book. Like most Christian theologians, the Muslims have to believe that sacred scriptures are the work of divinely inspired humans.

Tellingly, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran’s comments echoed Pope Benedict’s earlier statement when the Pope hit out at Islam and its concept of holy war during a theological lecture on Sept. 12, 2006 to the staff and students at the University of Regensburg, where Pope Benedict taught theology in the 1970s.

Using the words, “jihad” and “holy war”, the Pope quoted criticisms of the prophet Mohammed by a 14th century Byzantine Christian emperor, Manuel II, during a debate with a learned Persian. “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached,” Benedict quoted the emperor as saying. “The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable,” the Pope said and added: “Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul.”

Manuel II (1350-1425) was the second-to-last emperor of the East-Roman (Byzantine) Empire. As a boy, he had been held prisoner by the Turks, and his dialogues took place as his inheritance lay in jeopardy to the Ottoman empire, and his capital under siege. Only 28 years after his death, Constantinople, the capital of Byzantine empire fell to the Ottomans under Sultan Mehmed II.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net) email: asghazali2011 (@) gmail.com

  • K SHESHU BABU

    Religious heads coming together to solve the problem is a positive commendable step. Pope should take a step forward and advise US government to stop Muslim ban and hate speeches. He must impress upon Trump the need to look the problem of jihad and terrorism not through communal lens but with objective conditions and reality.