The global effort to build a "culture of peace" among Christians
and Muslims and other faiths is gaining some momentum this month,
both symbolically and substantively.
After a groundbreaking meeting between Roman Catholic and Muslim
religious leaders last week, world political leaders this week are
meeting to heighten the visibility and broaden the commitment to
interfaith dialogue. On Nov. 12 and 13 at the United Nations,
President Bush gathers with a dozen heads of state and other leaders
to lend political backing to interfaith initiatives. The prime
minister of Britain, leaders of several Muslim nations, and the
presidents of Israel, Lebanon, and Palestine are among those
"The idea is to send a unified clear message that the world
community is in consensus in promoting interfaith dialogue and
speaking against extremism, intolerance, and terrorism," says Rayed
Krimly, special envoy of Saudi Arabia, whose king, Abdullah bin
Abdul-Aziz, was the driving force behind this week's meeting.
Heading a nation that has restricted other religions, King Abdullah
"felt very strongly he needs to put his moral and political
authority on the line." The king began calling for interfaith
dialogue at a Muslim summit in Mecca in June and organized a
multifaith conference in Madrid in July.
Human Rights Watch called Tuesday for world leaders to press
Saudi Arabia to end religious discrimination at home.
The meeting follows a separate interfaith initiative - the first
Catholic-Muslim forum at the Vatican - hosted by Pope Benedict XVI.
The talks on Nov. 4-6 led to a 15-point declaration that leaders of
both faiths say exceeded their expectations (see
"We've turned an important page in the whole history of Christian-
Muslim relations," says Fr. James Massa, head of interreligious
affairs for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. "What this
conference has done is make the connection so clearly between core
commitments of faith and respect for religious freedom and other
human rights, and this is a remarkable achievement."
Among their commitments, the top leaders agreed on: the right of
individuals to choose in matters of conscience and to practice their
religion in private and public; that religious minorities are to be
respected and are entitled to their own places of worship; that
human dignity and respect should be extended on an equal basis to
both men and women. …