December 5, 2007
The Chruch and the Crescent: The Relationship between the Catholic Church and Islam under Pope Benedict
One unsettling fact dominates the relations between Christianity and Islam, namely, that dialogue is
The reasons for this are mixed and many but the most unsettling, I believe, are a clear
misunderstanding, by both Muslims and Christians, on what inter-religious dialogue actually is.
some who think inter-religious dialogues are like other dialogues, for example: negotiations between
countries; bargaining between labor and management; or any attempts to find middle ground between
disputing parties; however this is not the case.
Dialogue in society involves compromise.
system gets things done by using compromise, and that is fine.
Compromise often makes a family get along
Labor and management have to compromise or planes don't fly, goods are not delivered, phones are
not serviced and heath care workers can't take care of those who are sick, injured or dying.
Compromise is a
way for these very things to happen, but when people of faith talk to one another, they are not attempting any
The goal in inter-religious dialogue is not to construct one religion for the whole world, but to
share and learn from one another.
Inter-religious dialogue is both a process of “spiritual growth” and a set of
experiences that can have a transforming effect on those engaged in it.
Inter-religious dialogue is the “art of
spiritual communication” to quote Pope Paul VI, and can be described as “among the best manifestations of
human activity and culture.”
Catholicism and Islam have a long and storied relationship with many highs and
In the present moment, there is probably no more consequential question, no question upon which the
short term future of the earth hangs to a greater degree, than the capacity of the West and of Islamic cultures
to “work out a peaceful modus vivendi
(way of living).
I believe that Pope Benedict XVI alone among the
major actors on the Western stage today has the theological depth, the spiritual and moral fortitude, and the
personal freedom to launch a meaningful dialogue with Muslims that could actually change the current global
calculus. To unpack this argument I will make several points.
First however, to expand on the current
relationship between Catholicism and Islam under the pontificate Benedict XVI, I would like to share three
stories, which I think illustrate the promise and the peril of this relationship.
The first story is set place in Syria in 2001, in which Pope John Paul II made history by being the first
pope to set foot into an Islamic mosque.