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Religion and Society

Dialogues of Salvation

John Paul II himself responded to the question of his attitude towards Islam and Muslims in the first months of his pontificate. It was April 27th 1979 when the Holy Father said, in the Audience for members of the Secretariat for Non-Christians: «I am sure that some people will ask themselves if the new Pope will bring with him as much care and attention for the vast universe of non-Christian religions as did Paul VI. I have made an effort to respond to this question in my Encyclical Redemptor Hominis. I hope and desire that the will for dialogue, for the purposes of Salvation, is stronger in the entire Church, especially in countries with Christian majorities. Education towards dialogue with the followers of different religions should be part of Christian education, especially for young people» (in L'Osservatore Romano from April 29th, 1979). Therefore it should come as no surprise that John Paul II accepted the invitation of Hassan II, King of Morocco, to speak to young Muslims, meeting tens of thousands of them at Casablanca on August 19th 1985, and beginning his speech thus: «Christians and Muslims have much in common, both as believers and as human beings. We live in the same world, a world full of signs of hope, but also full of many signs of distress. For both of us, Abraham is a unique model of faith in God, of submission to his will and faith in his goodness. We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the worlds and leads His creatures toward their perfection».

 

 

And if John Paul II, with his speech in Morocco showed himself, from the beginning, as farseeing in the relationship with Islam, with the trip to Syria in 2001 he highlighted that the Holy See is anxious for Catholics to respect the values of Jews and Muslims, asking those who belong to the three religions to promote justice, which is an essential condition for peace. In his visit to Damascus, the Pope also highlighted the necessity of applying UN resolutions in the Middle East. Cordially welcomed by President Bachar El Assad, by the political and religious authorities both Christian and Muslim- as well as by the Syrian population, he gave a speech of exceptional importance in the Great Mosque of Damascus.

 

I think it is legitimate to read this speech in the light of the Letter of the Patriarchs of the Churches of the Middle East (1994), where at n. 48 it is highlighted that: «We (Christians and Muslims) are founded on a unique inheritance of civility. Each of us has contributed to our enlargement according to his own genius. Our relationship of civility is our historical patrimony. We must preserve it, develop it, strengthen it and revitalise it, so that it may be the foundation of our coexistence and of our reciprocal respect as brothers and sisters. The Christians of the Middle East are an inseparable part of the cultural identity of Muslims. In the same way, Muslims are an inseparable part of the cultural identity of Christians. For this reason, we are both responsible before God and history».

 

 

As is evident in both speeches, John Paul II continues to invite Christians and Muslims to work together -and with all other people- in order to promote religious and moral values, through «an inter-religious dialogue which is most effective when it comes from the experience of living with one another, every day, in the bosom of the same community and culture».

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