Catholic-Muslim Relations

One year ago this month, Pope Benedict XVI sparked an uproar when he quoted the fourteenth century Byzantine Emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, concerning Islam, in an address on faith and reason. Unfortunately, the Popes citation of this emperor was quoted in the secular media and not put in its proper context, which thus lead to a flurry of misunderstanding.

Although the address is not specifically related to the relationship between Christians and Muslims, the reaction from the Muslim world should cause us, as Catholics, to pause and try to understand this relationship at a more profound level.

Let us begin by taking the Second Vatican Council as a compass for the remainder of this small post. First, Vatican II, put forth Christ, as we receive Him in and through His Church, with the following words: “First, the council professes its belief that God Himself has made known to mankind the way in which men are to serve Him, and thus be saved in Christ and come to blessedness. We believe that this one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the duty of spreading it abroad among all men.” (Dignitatis Humanae) Vatican II thus claims that the “one true religion, subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church...”

While on the one hand firmly stating it's own identity, the Church then turns to the common ground shared between itself and other religions basing itself on the following words of the Apostles Peter and Paul concerning our relationship with them: “... maintain good fellowship among the nations" (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all men, so that they may truly be sons of the Father who is in heaven.” (Nostra Aetate)

In this light, of living in peace with all men, the Council turns its eye to the Muslim people and examines what we hold in common with them. “The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth... Further, they await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.”

The Church and the Pope therefore hold in esteem the Muslim people, while at the same time they desire to engage in dialogue concerning the similarities and differences among us. We desire to present Jesus Christ and we respectfully listen with love to what they are presenting to us. One-hundred-and-thirty-eight Muslim scholars from all over the world just sent an open letter to the Holy Father concerning the commonality we share in the two great commandments of love for God and love for neighbor. Let us pray for the Holy Father that he may continue to challenge those who are not Catholic to look seriously at our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, so that we may continue to have fruitful dialogue with all men.