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«Let us affirm together the priority of God»

Meeting with the Muslim Community in the courtyard of the great Ommayad Mosque in Damascus.



Speech by the Holy Father John Paul II


Sunday, May 6th 2001



Dear Muslim Friends,


As-salámu 'aláikum!



I praise God from my heart for blessing us with this meeting. I am very thankful to you for the warm welcome I have received in the tradition of hospitality so dear to this region's people. I would especially like to thank the Minister of the Waqf and the Great Mufti for their greetings, which were expressed with that great desire for peace which fills the hearts of all people of good will. My jubilee pilgrimage has been characterised by numerous important meetings with Muslim leaders from Cairo to Jerusalem, and now I am profoundly moved by the fact that I am able to be your guest here in the Great Ommayad Mosque, which is so rich with religious history. Your land is dear to Christians: here our religion lived through key moments in its growth and its doctrinal development, and here there are Christian communities which have lived in peace and harmony with their Muslim neighbours for many centuries.



We are meeting near the tomb that both Christians and Muslims consider to be that of John the Baptist, known as Yahya in the Muslim tradition. The son of Zaccharias is a person of fundamental importance in the history of Christianity, since as the Precursor he prepared the way for Christ. The life of John, entirely dedicated to God, was crowned with martyrdom. May his witness enlighten all those who here venerate his memory, so that they, and we, may understand that the great task of life is the search for truth and God's justice.


The fact that our meeting is taking place in this famous place of prayer reminds us that man is a spiritual being, called to recognise and respect the absolute priority of God in every thing. Christians and Muslims agree on the fact that the encounter with God in prayer is the necessary nourishment of our soul, without which our heart withers away and our will no longer looks to the good but gives itself over to evil.



The place of prayer is dear to both Christians and Muslims as an oasis in which one meets with the Merciful God along the walk towards eternal life and with one's brothers and sisters in the bond of religion. During occasions such as weddings, funerals or other celebrations, when Christians and Muslims show a silent respect for the prayers of the other, they testify to that which unites them without however hiding or denying that which separates them.


It is in the mosques and in the churches that the Muslim and Christian communities forge their religious identity, and it is there that our youth receive a significant part of their religious education. What sense of identity is instilled in young Christians and young Muslims in our churches and mosques? I strongly hope that religious leaders and teachers, both Muslim and Christian, present our two great religious communities "as communities in respectful dialogue and never again as communities in conflict". It is important that young people be taught the ways of respect and understanding, so that they are not led to abuse religion itself in order to promote or justify hatred and violence. Violence destroys the image of the Creator in His creatures and should never be considered the fruit of religious convictions.



I strongly hope that today's meeting, in the Ommayad Mosque, may be a sign of our determination to continue our inter-religious dialogue between the Catholic Church and Islam. This dialogue has acquired a greater urgency in the last decade; and today we can be thankful for the path we have already walked. On the highest levels, the Catholic Church is represented in this task by the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue. For more than thirty years the Council has sent a message to Muslims on the 'Id al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan and I am happy that this gesture has been taken by many Muslims as a sign of growing friendship between us. In the last few years the Council has instituted a liaison committee with the international Islamic Organizations, as well as with l'al-Azhar in Egypt, which I had the pleasure of visiting last year.


It is important for Muslims and Christians to continue to explore philosophical and theological questions together, in order to obtain a more objective and complete consciousness of the other's religious beliefs. A better reciprocal understanding will certainly create, on a practical level, a new way of presenting our two religions, "not in opposition", as has happened all too often in the past, "but collaborating for the good of the human family".


Inter-religious dialogue is most effective when it stems from the experience of "living with one another", every day, in the bosom of the same community and culture. Christians and Muslims in Syria have lived side by side for centuries, and a rich and living dialogue has been continuously carried on. Every individual and every family knows moments of harmony and moments in which there is less dialogue. The positive experiences must reinforce our communities in the hope of peace; and we should not let the negative experiences undermine that hope. For every time that Muslims and Christians have offended each other, we must ask for the forgiveness of the Omnipotent and offer forgiveness to one another. Jesus teaches us that we must forgive others their trespasses, if we want God to forgive ours (Mt. 6.14).


As members of the human family and as believers, we have obligations towards the common good, justice and solidarity. Inter-religious dialogue will bring many forms of cooperation, especially in carrying out the duty of helping the poor and the weak. It is this which testifies to the authenticity of our cult.



In walking through our life towards the heavenly destiny, Christians feel the closeness of Mary, Mother of Jesus; Islam also pays homage to Mary and salutes her as «elected among all the women of the world» (Koran, III, 42). The Virgin of Nazareth, Lady of Saydnaya, has taught us that God protects the humble and «has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts» (Lk 1.51). May the hearts of Christians and Muslims turn towards one another with feelings of fraternity and friendship, that the Omnipotent bless us with the peace that only heaven can give! Praise and glory in eternity to the One Merciful God. Amen.