The Vatican announced it will hold a "historic" meeting with Muslim leaders this spring in response to an unprecedented letter signed by over a hundred Muslim clerics, scholars, and intellectuals calling for understanding based on their common ground of belief in one God.
Pope Benedict XVI proposed the meeting which will begin with three Muslim representatives coming to Rome in February or March in preparation for the meeting, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, told the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano last weekend.
Tauran did not give a date for the larger meeting other than saying it will take place in the spring.
The Catholic-Muslim dialogue will focus on three main topics: respect for the dignity of each person, inter-religious dialogue based on reciprocal understanding, and instruction of tolerance among the young, according to The Associated Press.
"The meeting with a delegation of some of the 138 Muslims, planned for Rome next spring, is in a certain sense historic," Tauran said, according to L'Osservatore.
Benedict has had a tense if not poor relationship with Muslims after citing a Medieval text in September 2006 that called the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad – particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith" – "evil and inhuman," according to AP.
The Pope had afterwards said he was "deeply sorry" for the reactions to his remark, but stopped short of apologizing for saying it. Since then, the Vatican has been trying to improve relations with moderate Islam.
In the Muslim letter, the 138 scholars focused on the commonality between Islam and Christianity – love for God and love for one's neighbor. They also highlighted that Christians and Muslims make up about 55 percent of the world population and therefore reconciliation between the two faiths is a must in order to maintain world peace.
Besides the Pope, more than 100 Christian theologians, ministry leaders and prominent pastors have issued a joint response in November to the scholars, saying they share the concerns of the Muslim leaders.
Signers of the Christian letter include Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners; Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church; John Stott, rector emeritus of All Souls Church in London; and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
On the Muslim side, Jordan's Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, a special envoy to King Abdullah II, has confirmed the meeting and said three representatives of the Muslim scholars will travel to Rome in February or March to lay the groundwork for the larger meeting, according to AP.