Catholic and Muslim leaders meet for historic talks

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Amid heightening tensions, Christian and Muslim leaders take strides in building better understanding and improving communication.

Vatican City -- Top Roman Catholic and Muslim clerics and scholars began historic talks Tuesday in Rome aimed at defusing tensions between Christianity and Islam.

The talks are part of an initiative by moderate Muslim individuals and groups that had violently protested against the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper in 2005.

They are also an outcome of a gradual rapprochement between the Vatican and Muslims since Pope Benedict XVI's controversial 2006 speech in Regensburg where he appeared to associate Islam with violence.

Benedict is scheduled to receive participants on Thursday following the last session of the three day talks under the theme "Love of God, Love of Neighbour."

The meeting of Christians and Muslims on such a topic goes beyond issues "of good neighbourliness. They involve the future of humanity," the Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, said ahead of the talks.

Heading the Vatican delegation is Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue while his Muslim counterpart is the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, Mustafa Ceric.

The Muslim group's spokesman, a scholar of Islam from Turkey, Ibrahim Kalin, told L'Osservatore Romano that there was a need for Christians and Muslims to overcome mutual "scepticism."

There is a need for followers of each religion to "conquer diffidence," and "move beyond tolerance," said Kalin.

In an interview ahead of the talks with the French Catholic newspaper La Croix, Tauran reiterated the Vatican belief that relations with Muslims must be based on "reciprocity."

"This can only be achieved if Christians and followers of other faiths are allowed freedom to practice their religion in Muslim dominated nations," the Cardinal said.

The two delegations, each made up of 29 participants, are meeting as the 'Catholic-Muslim Forum'. The formation of this forum was announced in March when a delegation of Muslim representatives from the moderate 'A Common Word' grouping visited the Vatican.


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