Dialogue with Muslims
Statement of the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
The Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (CEIA) receives its mandate to engage in dialogue with Muslims from the Second Vatican Council’s (1962–1965)Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate[NA]). It states unequivocally that the Church urges its members to “enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions” (NA, no. 2). With respect to Islam, the council fathers say that “the Church has also a high regard for the Muslims” and that despite centuries of conflict “the sacred Council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding” (NA, no. 3).
The declaration has been consistently upheld by recent popes. Pope John Paul II affirmed the need for dialogue with Muslims on numerous occasions throughout his long pontificate (1978–2005). For example, in Crossing the Threshold of Hope he remarked in the chapter entitled “Muhammad?” that “believers in Allah are particularly close to us” and that “the religiosity of Muslims deserves our respect” ([New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005], 91, 93). The pope also reiterated the central mandate of Nostra Aetate by reminding the faithful that they are called to maintain “a dialogue with followers of the ‘Prophet'” and that “the Church remains always open to dialogue and cooperation” (ibid., 93, 94).
Sadly, in recent years, there has been a deliberate rejection of this call to engage in dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters by some in the Catholic Church and in other ecclesial families. We understand the confusion and deep emotions stirred by real and apparent acts of aggression and discrimination by certain Muslims against non-Muslims, often against Christians abroad. We, and increasingly our Muslim partners in dialogue, are concerned about these very real phenomena. Along with many of our fellow Catholics and the many Muslims who themselves are targeted by radicals, we wish to voice our sadness, indeed our outrage, over the random and sometimes systematic acts of violence and harassment—acts that for both Christians and Muslims threaten and disrupt the harmony that binds us together in mutual support, recognition, and friendship.
Still, it is our belief that the most efficient way to work toward ending or at least curtailing such violence and prejudice is through building networks of dialogue that can overcome ignorance, extremism, and discrimination and so lead to friendship and trust with Muslims.
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