In the Holy See Press Office this morning, a press conference was held to present the annual Message to Muslims for the end of the month of Ramadan, published by the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.
Participating in the conference were Cardinal Paul Poupard, Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, and Msgr. Felix Anthony Machado, respectively president, secretary and under-secretary of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, and Msgr. Khaled Akashed, bureau chief of the council's office for relations with Islam.
Cardinal Poupard pointed out how his council "sends messages of good will to the followers of the three of the world's major religions: Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims." The council's offices, he said, enjoy regular visits from "Shinoists, Sikhs, ... and exponents of other eastern religions. ... These visits, with reciprocal exchange of expressions of good will, are returned by the pontifical council."
Among the initiatives being promoted by his dicastery, the cardinal mentioned a meeting in Assisi, Italy, to be held from November 4 to 8, of "100 young people, 50 Christians and 50 from other religious traditions and various countries," for the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace. The aim is "to reflect and to exchange ideas, in the hope that the meeting may help young people to be instruments of dialogue, of peace and of hope for the world."
The next to speak was Archbishop Celata who outlined the history of the Messages to Muslims, first published in 1967 by the then Secretariat for non-Christians. It was felt, he said, that Ramadan "represented an appropriate moment for the Holy See dicastery charged with promoting relations with different religious traditions, to present itself to the various Muslim communities, expressing sentiments of friendly participation in their joy."
"Over all these years," he continued, "the Message has attracted growing appreciation, attention and interest. Little by little, the number of Muslim personalities who have responded has increased. ... Of particular significance is the appreciation of bishops, some of whom accompany the release of the Message with a personal letter of their own."
Turning to consider the contents of the message, the archbishop explained that they "are not limited to formal expressions of good will, but seek to establish 'contact,' to create a harmony with the recipients on a 'religious' plane, that is, on the basis of those elements that encouraged the Fathers of Vatican Council II to declare the Church's esteem for Muslims."
The Messages to Muslims also cover "questions of common interest, not infrequently arising from current affairs, ... with the aim of promoting reflection to encourage better understanding of certain fundamental human values, and the contribution of both religions to solving certain difficult situations."
For his part, Msgr. Machado presented a book recently published by the council: "Inter-religious Dialogue. The official teaching of the Catholic Church from the Second Vatican Council to John Paul II (1963-2005)." Over a 1,000 pages long, it has been published in Italian, French and English.
This volume, said the under-secretary of the pontifical council, gives "Catholics easy access to the theological motivations of inter-religious dialogue as explained in the Magisterium," and "offers followers of other faiths the official teaching of the Catholic Church on the various religions of the world."
The full text of the message is below:
Dear Muslim friends,
1. I am happy to address this message to you for the first time as President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and to extend the Council’s warmest greetings as you celebrate the conclusion of the fast of Ramadan. I wish you peace, tranquillity and joy in your hearts, your homes and your countries. These good wishes echo those which His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI expressed personally at the beginning of Ramadan to the diplomats accredited to the Holy See from countries with Muslim majorities, to those from other countries that are members and observers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and to representatives of Muslim communities in Italy.
2. It is good to be able to share this significant moment with you in the context of our ongoing dialogue. The particular circumstances that we have recently experienced together demonstrate clearly that, however arduous the path of authentic dialogue may be at times, it is more necessary than ever.
3. The month of Ramadan which you have just completed has also undoubtedly been a time of prayer and reflection on the difficult situations of today’s world. While contemplating and thanking God for all that is good, it is impossible not to take note of the serious problems which affect our times: injustice, poverty, tensions and conflicts between countries as well as within them. Violence and terrorism are a particularly painful scourge. So many human lives destroyed, so many women widowed, so many children who have lost a parent, so many children orphaned … So many wounded, physically and spiritually… So much, which has taken years of sacrifice and toil to build, destroyed in a few minutes!
4. As Christian and Muslim believers, are we not the first to be called to offer our specific contribution to resolve this serious situation and these complex problems? Without doubt, the credibility of religions and also the credibility of our religious leaders and all believers is at stake. If we do not play our part as believers, many will question the usefulness of religion and the integrity of all men and women who bow down before God.
Our two religions give great importance to love, compassion and solidarity. In this context, I wish to share with you the message of the first Encyclical Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), which echoes the most characteristic ‘definition’ of God in Christian Sacred Scriptures, “God is love” (1 Jn 4: 8). Genuine love for God is inseparable from love for others: “Anyone who says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, is a liar, since a man who does not love the brother he can see cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 Jn 4: 20). In recalling this point, the Encyclical underlines the importance of fraternal charity in the Church’s mission: love, to be credible, must be effective. It must come to the aid of everyone, beginning with the most needy. True love must be of service to all the needs of daily life; it must also seek just and peaceful solutions to the serious problems which afflict our world.
5. Believers who are engaged in helping people in need or seeking solutions to these problems, do so above all through their love for God, ‘for the face of God’. Psalm 27 (26) says: ‘I seek your face, O Lord, hide not your face from me …’(vv. 8b-9a). The month of fasting which you have just completed has not only brought you to give more attention to prayer, it has also rendered you more sensitive to the needs of others, above all to the hungry, fostering an even greater generosity towards those in distress.
6. Everyday worries together with the more serious problems faced by the world call for our attention and our action. Let us ask God in prayer to help us confront them with courage and determination. In those places where we can work together, let us not labour separately. The world has need, and so do we, of Christians and Muslims who respect and value each other and bear witness to their mutual love and co-operation to the glory of God and the good of all humanity.
7. With sentiments of sincere friendship I greet you and entrust to you my thoughts for your consideration. I beseech Almighty God that they will contribute to the promotion everywhere of the relations of greater understanding and co-operation that have arisen between Christians and Muslims, and thus offer a significant contribution to the re-establishment and strengthening of peace both within nations and between peoples, in accordance with the profound desires of all believers and all men and women of goodwill.
Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata
Paul Cardinal Poupard