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Vatican on Saudi-backed Interfaith Center

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, delivers his speech during the opening ceremony of the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center in Vienna 26 Nov. The new Saudi-backed interfaith center will provide an opportunity for the church to promote religious freedom for Christians and others around the world, said Cardinal Tauran. (Photo: CNS/Leonhard Foeger, Reuters) 

He said the Vatican was participating in the center “in order better to put to use her experience and trusted expertise in the field of interreligious dialogue.” He also noted that the center’s co-founding states, Austria and Spain, “have centuries-old Christian traditions.”

Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, said that by supporting concrete initiatives for peace and reconciliation the center can be religion’s “constructive voice” in areas of the world where religion is manipulated to foment conflict.

One of the main reasons peace treaties or other political initiatives fail, he said, is they neglect “the religious dimension of the conflict” and therefore lack “the necessary psychological and spiritual support” of the people involved, he told the Austrian daily newspaper, Der Standard, Nov. 25.

While acknowledging that Saudi Arabia might use the center as a promotional “showpiece” without making real reforms at home, the rabbi said healthy skepticism shouldn’t be allowed to cut off hope.

“King Abdullah told us that (his) country is very conservative and traditional, and that things can’t be changed overnight. But if people see us collaborating, their outlook may change,” Rabbi Rosen said. “I think the king and his (government) ministers seriously intend to introduce change in Saudi Arabia. The center must contribute to that.”

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Tags: Middle East Vatican Interreligious Christian-Muslim relations