Misreporting at Root of Muslim Group's Dialogue-Freeze With Vatican
Patriarch Calls for Reinforced Relations, Collaboration
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ROME, FEB. 2, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts says that a decision from Sunni Islam's highest authority to freeze dialogue with the Holy See can be traced to a "mistaken translation or erroneous interpretation" of Benedict XVI's call for religious freedom.
Cardinal Antonios Naguib is blaming an Arab TV channel for causing the confusion that led to a Jan. 20 announcement of a dialogue-freeze from the Cairo-based Research Council of the University of Al-Azhar. The council has been involved in official dialogue with the Vatican since 1998.
The dialogue-freeze came in protest of Benedict XVI's statements on religious freedom following a Jan. 1 attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria. The Pope mentioned the issue in passing in a greeting to Italian Parliamentarians in his Jan. 9 Angelus address, and again in his Jan. 10 speech to the Diplomatic Corps. The World Day of Peace message, from before the Alexandria attack, also takes up the theme of religious freedom.
The great imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad at-Tayyeb, alleged that the papal comments were an intervention in Egypt's internal affairs.
In addition to the Al-Azhar decision, Egypt also requested that its ambassador to the Holy See "return to Cairo for consultations with the Egyptian foreign ministry," the Vatican reported at the time.
Not what he said
However, Cardinal Naguib told ZENIT that an error was made in interpreting the Holy Father's words "by one of the Arab television channels, and was then taken up by all the media. Hence the religious, political and cultural authorities took it to be the statements of the Pope, and based their reactions on these mistaken interpretations."
The cardinal, who was the general relator at the synod on the Middle East, clarified that a dialogue freeze does not mean severed relations between the Vatican and Al-Azhar, and this was confirmed by university council spokesman, Ambassador Mohammed Refaat.
"Al-Azhar made this decision because it considered the Pope's positions negative as regards Islam, in reference also to incidents of the past. In reality those papal interventions were also interpreted badly. Perhaps this will be an occasion to clarify what this escalation has created, and to return to a fruitful dialogue by both sides," the patriarch reflected.
Patriarch Naguib was in Rome over the past few days participating in a commission meeting in follow-up of the synod on the Middle East. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, is also part of the commission.
After that meeting, Patriarch Naguib reported that Cardinal Tauran had confirmed his dicastery has not received any official communication from Al-Azhar. Because of this, the pontifical council considers the dialogue still on course. In fact, the meeting is still scheduled for next Tuesday.
The Vatican and Al-Azhar have had a joint committee on dialogue since 1998. They meet annually, alternatively in Cairo and Rome. This month's meeting has been scheduled since last year.
Ready to collaborate
To the question on how the Catholic Church is now fairing in Egypt, Patriarch Naguib reminded that the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, issued a communiqué in which he explained in detail the words of the Pope, clarifying that the Holy Father did not interfere in the internal affairs of the country and did not appeal to foreign governments to intervene to defend Christians in the Middle East. The Pope simply requested governments to protect their Christian citizens.
Moreover, two auxiliary bishops, accompanied by the director of the press office of the Catholic Coptic Church, met with the great imam of Al-Azhar, presenting to him the Pope's authentic text. The patriarch of the Melkite Church also met with the Egyptian minister of religious affairs to give him the Holy Father's discourses.
"For my part," Cardinal Naguib stated, "I also made an appeal to all Catholics in Egypt to be committed to fostering and promoting a spirit of hospitality, closeness, fraternity and collaboration."
The nation, meanwhile, has faced nine days of anti-government manifestations with protestors taking to the streets in an attempt to force the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.
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On the Net:
Pope's Jan. 10 speech to Diplomatic Corps: www.zenit.org/article-31404?l=english
World Day of Peace Message: www.zenit.org/article-31261?l=english