WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is creating a new group for the purpose of increasing dialogue between Muslims and Catholics.
According to a statement released Monday by the USCCB, the new organization, referred to as the National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, will pursue the goals of "greater understanding, mutual esteem and collaboration between Muslims and Catholics, and the members have established lasting ties of friendship and a deep sense of trust."
The formation of the outreach group was sponsored by the USCCB's Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, headed by Bp. Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts. For over two decades the committee has co-sponsored regional Catholic-Muslim dialogues, but Bp. Rozanski believes it is time to begin a national dialogue.
"As the national conversation around Islam grows increasingly fraught, coarse and driven by fear and often willful misinformation, the Catholic Church must help to model real dialogue and good will," he asserted.
There are currently three regional Catholic-Muslim dialogues: Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and West Coast. The dialogues, each co-chaired by a bishop and Muslim leader from that specific region, are scheduled to continue meeting and will collaborate with the new national dialogue. In the past, the dialogues have issued reports on various topics, including marriage, the role of Catholics and Muslims in the public square, and a guide for Catholic educators called "Understanding Islam."
The National Dialogue was the result of a July 2014 statement released by the Committee For Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs asserting the need for "networks of dialogue that can overcome ignorance, extremism and discrimination and so lead to friendship and trust with Muslims."
The need, according to the committee, stems from a "deliberate rejection of this call to engage in dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters by some in the Catholic Church and in other ecclesial families." The statement continues, affirming the committee members' belief that "encounter and dialogue with persons different than ourselves offers the best opportunity for fraternal growth, enrichment, witness and ultimately peace."
The new Dialogue is scheduled to be co-chaired by Abp. Blase Cupich of Chicago, with his tenure to begin January 1, 2017. It has not been announced who will represent the Islamic community or which national Muslim organizations would be participating.