A tractor in the Vatican

Vatican City, Nov.02,2007 (CINS/EWTN:Joan's Rome) - It was not the headline heard around the world but it did make news in farming communities. Over the years cars have been donated to Popes but a gift given to Benedict XVI wednesday, following the general audience, was the first of its kind to be given to a Roman Pontiff: Italian auto maker, FIAT, presented the Holy Father with a brand new tractor, completely painted white and bearing the papal coat-of-arms. The Adnkronos news agency carried a story on the gift – along with a photo of the smiling pontiff and two FIAT executives.

The company CEO, Sergio Marchionne said the tractor will be used to “tow and position the enormous, 17-ton mobile platform on which the Pope holds his weekly Wednesday General Audience in St. Peter's Square. He was at the Vatican Wednesday to turn the gift over to the Pope, explaining that it was a "unique" version of the Fiat-owned New Holland brand's T7050 model. New Holland is a world leader in the agricultural equipment sector. Marchionne said, “For us it's a great honor to have had the opportunity to deliver this vehicle to the Holy Father, in a sign of admiration and respect."

Scholars troubled by Vatican official's remarks on Muslim dialogue

Vatican City, Nov.01,2007 (CINS/CNS) -- After 138 Muslim scholars wrote to top Christian leaders highlighting shared religious values as a basis for working together for peace and understanding, a Vatican official raised questions about the possibilities for dialogue with Muslims.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the longtime Vatican diplomat who became president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in September, has said the Vatican would respond formally to the Muslim scholars. But he raised concerns among the Muslim signers when he told a French Catholic newspaper he was not sure "theological dialogue" was possible with Muslims.

The newspaper, La Croix, asked the cardinal if theological dialogue was possible with members of other religions.

"With some religions, yes," he said. "But with Islam, no, not at this time. Muslims do not accept the possibility of discussing the Quran, because it is written, they say, as dictated by God.

"With such a strict interpretation, it is difficult to discuss the content of faith," he said in the interview published Oct. 18.

Aref Ali Nayed, one of the original signers of the letter and senior adviser to the Cambridge Interfaith Program at Britain's Cambridge University divinity faculty, told Catholic News Service, "Cardinal Tauran's statement to La Croix was very disappointing indeed."

Nayed, who has taught at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies in Rome, said the cardinal's comment "deeply discouraged Muslim scholars and annoyed many Muslim believers at the grass-roots level."

"Rather than unilaterally declaring the impossibility of theological dialogue with Muslims, Cardinal Tauran would have been wiser to ask Muslim scholars themselves as to what kind of dialogue they feel is possible, from their point of view," Nayed said in a written response to questions.

He said Muslim scholars always have been "aware of the fact that the activities of interpretation, understanding and exegesis of God's eternal discourse" are human activities that must be renewed in every age.

"Solemn belief in the eternity and divine authorship of the Quran never prevented Muslim scholars from dealing with it historically and linguistically," he said. "On the contrary, belief in the revelatory truth of the Quran was the very motivation for spending lifetimes in close scholarly study of God's discourse."

Obviously, there is a difference between theological and ethical dialogue, Nayed said, but people who believe their faith provides "the ultimate fount and ground for righteous living" are not acting as believers when they separate the two.

Institutions like the United Nations already provide a forum for a purely secular ethical dialogue, he said.

"If religious, revelation-based communities are to truly contribute to humanity, their dialogue must be ultimately theologically and spiritually grounded," Nayed said. "If dialogue is to be serious, it must be theologically and spiritually deep."

Jesuit Father Daniel A. Madigan, international visiting fellow at the Woodstock Theological Institute at Georgetown University in Washington, told CNS that many Christians misunderstand how Muslims view the Quran, leading to a widespread prejudice that assumes "Muslims are unwilling or incapable of interpreting the Quran."

The truth is that "there is a very extensive Muslim literature of Quran interpretation, both traditional and contemporary," said Father Madigan, who serves as a consultant to the commission for relations with Muslims at the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

"Any act of reading is an act of interpretation: Some Muslims read the Quran as warranting violence, while others do not interpret it that way," he said. "Some think it requires the seclusion of women; many others disagree.

"The fact that there are different interpretations is a starting point for dialogue," Father Madigan said.

"At a time when a substantial group of Muslim scholars of widely varying persuasions is trying publicly to promote a theological dialogue with Christians, it seems imprudent to rule out the very possibility of such an engagement," he said.

The Jesuit said the basis for theological dialogue with Muslims was affirmed by the Second Vatican Council in its document on relations with other religions and in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, which said Christians and Muslims "adore the one, merciful God."

Abdal Hakim Murad Winter, another of the original signers of the letter to Christian leaders, told Catholic News Service, "Infallibility is an occasion for dialogue, not an obstacle."

In a written response to questions, Murad Winter, director of Britain's Muslim Academic Trust and imam of the mosque in Cambridge, England, said, "For Muslims, the Quran is the integral, infallible word of God; traditional Christians believe something no less ambitious about Christ," namely, that Jesus Christ is the word of God.

The fact that Christians and Muslims each have sincere beliefs does not mean that they cannot be "theologically challenged by others," he said.

Murad Winter said it would be difficult for any devout believer to insist on separating theological dialogue from dialogue on social or ethical issues.

"True theology can never exist independently of its application in the world," he said. "Monotheism is ethical through and through."

"There will be no shared position on social issues such as abortion, artificial contraception and euthanasia unless the theologies that generate the ethical discourse on each side have been fully acknowledged," he said.

The Muslims involved in writing the letter have launched a Web site -- www.acommonword.com -- to promote its study among Christians and Muslims.

The staff of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies published a letter of appreciation on the site Oct. 25, praising the breadth of Muslim views reflected in the letter and its commitment to understanding Christians as they understand themselves.

Among the innovations the pontifical institute's staff noted was "a new and creative attitude relative to the Quranic text and that of the prophetic tradition," particularly highlighting a positive view of Christians and Jews.

Diplomacy needed to stop growth of nuclear weapons says Vatican

Vatican City, Oct.19,2007 (CINS/totalcatholic) - The international community must use diplomacy, not armed intervention, to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, said the Vatican’s representative to the United Nations.

“Belligerence by anyone would only worsen a delicate situation and could inadvertently lead to conflagration with immense additional suffering on a humanity already overburdened with the ravages of war,” said Archbishop Celestino Migliore.
The archbishop spoke on Tuesday at a UN meeting on disarmament and international security.

His remarks were made one day before US President George W. Bush said he did not believe the claims of Iran’s government that it was developing nuclear technology to produce electricity.

“I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon," Bush said at a White House press conference on Wednesday. Archbishop Migliore said that “all the tools of diplomacy must be used to defuse crises concerning attempts by some countries to acquire nuclear weapons capabilitie”.

He said it was also necessary to dissuade others from ever taking “such a dangerous road”.

At the same time, the archbishop said, nations that do have nuclear weapons must get serious about negotiating a treaty designed to promote “the progressive elimination of nuclear weapons“ and to ban attempts to modernise their nuclear arsenals.

“The nuclear states have a particular responsibility to lead the way to a nuclear weapons-free world,“ the archbishop said.

He said that the Vatican‘s position was that “nuclear weapons contravene every aspect of humanitarian law”.

“They are an affront to our stewardship of the environment, in as much as they can destroy life on the planet and the planet itself. They must be done away with,” he said.

Vatican Museums open Apocalypse exhibit

Rome, Italy, Oct. 18, 2007 (CINS/CWN) - The Vatican Museums today inaugurated a special exhibit on the Apocalypse.

The exhibit, which will run through December 7, is designed "to reconsider the last book of the New Testament through a selection of masterworks, outstanding among them a series of ancient icons."

The exhibit includes about 100 works of art, including some that date back to the 4th century and others from recent years. The artists represented include Guido Reni, Albrecht Durer, El Greco, and Salvador Dali. Also included are numerous icons, including one from a monastery on Patmos, the island where St. John experienced the vision recounted in the Apocalypse.

Pope welcomes Jewish leaders to the Vatican

Vatican City, Oct.10,2007 (CINS/totalcatholic) - Pope Benedict XVI welcomed the new leaders of the World Jewish Congress to the Vatican on Monday.

Ronald S. Lauder, elected president of the congress in June, said his talks at the Vatican focused on inter-religious dialogue and on anti-Semitism in a number of European countries.

While the congress issued a press release after the meeting, the Vatican simply announced that the Pope had met the officers of the congress, which represents Jewish communities in more than 80 countries.

The congress' statement said Mr Lauder, a former US ambassador to Austria, told the Pope that "the anti-Semitic statements" attributed to Redemptorist Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, founder and director of Poland's Radio Maryja, "should not be tolerated anymore."

Mr Lauder "called on the pontiff to take action against those in the Church who wanted to do damage to the close and positive relationship between Christians and Jews," the statement said.

Fr Rydzyk, whose radio station ranks fifth in Poland's national ratings, has repeatedly been accused of making anti-Semitic remarks.

When Mr Lauder and the organization's secretary-general, Michael Schneider, met the Pope, they also highlighted the importance of dialogue among Christians, Jews and Muslims.

At a dinner with Vatican officials, diplomats and representatives of Italy's Jewish communities on October, Mr Schneider said that with "their credo of death and destruction" a radical Muslim minority has been intimidating the Muslim majority.

"Fanatics seek no less than the complete destruction of our Western Judeo-Christian civilisation, yet the majority of Muslims do not support Islamic fanaticism," he said. "Most Muslims are decent, law-abiding people. They have the same aspirations as we do for their families and for their future."

Christians and Jews, he said, must reach out to the Muslim majority and build "bridges of tolerance and understanding".

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