Los Angeles-Area Catholics and Muslims No Strangers to Dialogue

November 17, 2008

Author: Raja Abdulrahim

Source: The Los Angeles Times


World Roman Catholic and Muslim leaders made headlines this month when they met in a first-of-its-kind interfaith forum at the Vatican. Locally, some faithful saw the forum not as something new but as an affirmation of efforts they have been making for years.

The goal of the forum was to discuss commonalities between the two religions, focusing on theology, spirituality, human dignity and mutual respect. Twenty-nine leading religious clerics and theologians were present, including Pope Benedict XVI and Mustafa Ceric, grand mufti of Bosnia.

The result was a 15-point declaration that addressed several issues, such as the rights of religious minorities, gender equality and ethical financial systems for the poor. The first point, also the longest, basically summarized the tenets of each religion.

The forum, held Nov. 4-6, came two years after Benedict was widely criticized by Muslims for quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor who said the prophet Muhammad had introduced "things only evil and inhuman." The pope later apologized, and the next year 138 Muslim clerics, theologians and academics sent an open letter to Christian leaders focusing on the commonalities between the faiths.

It was that letter that prompted this month's forum, said the Rt. Rev. Alexei Smith of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Smith, the director of ecumenical and inter-religious affairs for the archdiocese, said it was unclear how the meeting would affect local churches and mosques.

"Certainly in Los Angeles we have been at the forefront of inter-religious dialogue," Smith said. "I think this is a great affirmation of what we've been doing all along."