CATHOLIC, Anglican, Sunni and Shiite leaders vowed to do all they can to combat “ugly and hideous” distortions of religion, and to involve more women – often the first victims of violence – in official inter-religious dialogues.
Holding the third Christian-Muslim Summit in Rome on December 2-4, the leaders said that while more and more women were involved in high-level dialogues, there was still much to be done, including recognising that “women play a key role in peace-building”.
The Catholic, Sunni and Shiite delegations at the summit each included one woman scholar; the Anglican delegation included two women clergy and two female scholars.
“Enough is enough. We are brothers in Abraham, we speak different languages, we live in different parts of the world,” but Christianity and Islam both taught that “humanity is one family” and religious leaders had an obligation to resist attempts to divide brothers and sisters with violence, Episcopal Bishop John Bryson Chane of Washington said.
Bishop Chane spoke on December 4 at the final, public session of the summit, which concluded with a “call to action” that also included pledges: to travel together to areas affected by severe violence as a sign to their followers that Christianity and Islam were religions of peace; to focus more attention on equipping young people to live with respect for other faiths; and to promote collaboration among Catholic, Anglican and Muslim aid agencies.
The declaration was signed by Bishop Chane; president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran; Prince El Hassan bin Talal, of Jordan; and Ayatollah Seyyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad, of Iran.
Asked about the declaration’s call for including more women, Cardinal Tauran said, “In my experience, women involved in inter-religious dialogue have the charism of welcoming, which is very important to create an atmosphere of trust.”
Clare Amos, a member of the Anglican delegation and program executive for inter-religious dialogue and co-operation at the World Council of Churches, said having at least one woman be on all the delegations at the Rome summit marked a “breakthrough”. “We’re gradually getting there,” she said.
Shahrzad Houshmand, an Iranian member of the Shiite delegation and professor of Islamic studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, said she was listened to and her ideas were welcomed by the group. In addition, “the presence of the women, including within each group, gave peace and harmony. We come from different theological, political and philosophical groups, but we were able to work well together.”
The dialogue experienced at the summit, the respect shown for other religions and the respect shown for women were all part of what religious leaders needed to show their younger members in order to raise a generation of faithful capable of living at peace with others and with respect for all, she said. “We must confess we haven’t done that well up to now. But we must be examples,” she said.
“In such a troubled world, what we accomplished in these three days was not small,” Ms Houshmand said.
Cardinal Tauran, who also participated in the first summit in Washington in 2010 and the second in Beirut in 2012, said Catholic-Muslim dialogue “is not so easy today”, especially when such ferocious violence was enflaming Syria, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.
The summit declaration, he said, “is a demanding document” in which the leaders recognised “it is our responsibility to improve the situation”.
“For many years, we have practised dialogue face to face,” the cardinal said. “Now we have to walk hand in hand.”
Pope Francis met the summit participants on December 3 and told them personal visits “make our brotherhood stronger. I thank you for your work, for what you do to help us understand each other better and, especially, for what you do for peace. Dialogue: this is the path to peace.”
At the summit’s closing session, Prince Hassan said he had signed too many declarations over the years that led to very little. But the work done in Rome moved the leaders’ commitment “from the generic to the organic” and could make a real difference if the leaders kept their promises like making joint visits to refugee camps and regions experiencing tension.
Christians and Muslims claimed to be proud of their heritage and saw it as essential to their religious and cultural identities, he said, but without joint efforts to stem the “bloody and violent feuds” and to stop terrorist groups like the Islamic State “our heritage is being destroyed around us as we speak – the heritage of Ninevah, the heritage of Babylon, the heritage of the ancients and the heritage of the children of Abraham”.