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India: group formulates response to Muslim scholars' letter to Pope

 A Church group has drafted a response to the letter Muslim scholars wrote to Pope Benedict XVI last October and suggested ways to spread Christian-Muslim friendship. The Islamic Studies Association (ISA) held a consultation on 20 January to prepare the response. About 80 participants, mostly experts on Christianity and Islam, heard papers on the letter and discussed it at the meeting. They then observed that the letter focuses on basic similarities of both religions and the need for Christians and Muslims, who constitute more than half of the world's people, to work jointly for peace. In a draft presented on behalf of the participants, Jesuit Father George Gispert-Sauch highlighted the "Christian response" from an Indian perspective. The draft acknowledges the initiative of the Muslim scholars as "a beautiful gift," and says the open letter "encourages us to seek in our common faith in one God," and also inspires Muslims and Christians to come together as friends to work for peace and those in need. "Our common belief in God the Creator and Sustainer enables us to feel related to one another at the very deepest level of our being," it states. At the same time, it acknowledges "observable differences" in the beliefs and practices of Christians and Muslims but notes that such differences should be viewed as "challenges rather than as obstacles to mutual appreciation." "By surrendering to the one Transcendent yet loving God," the participants pointed out, "we affirm that we cannot surrender our freedom to any created reality." Such love, they said, "impels us" to work together for the welfare of "diverse communities and individuals so as to build a truly inclusive Indian society." Christians and Muslims in India together form less than 15 percent of more than 1 billion Indians, most of whom are Hindus. The draft also suggests "concrete projects" to enhance mutual cooperation among institutions and proposes the exchange of visits on important festivals. The message of "brotherhood" between Islam and Christianity, according to the participants, should not be limited to a scholarly level but also include the grassroots. Some suggested translating the response, still in draft form, into Urdu, the popular language of Indian Muslims, and circulating it among them. They also suggested sending it to all Catholic educational institutions. They also suggested that the Jesuit-run Indian Social Institute in New Delhi network with groups and provide all imams in the city with the message. Jesuit Father Paul Jackson and Divine Word Father Pushpa Anbu, respectively president and secretary of the association, were among the paper presenters. The ISA was founded in 1979 during a meeting of the Commission for Dialogue and Ecumenism of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India. Its members are mostly Catholics interested in studying Islam and promoting religious amity. Source: UCAN (Many thanks to Fr Victor Edwin SJ, Jesuit Secretariat for Dialogue in Delhi for sending this.)