When Pope Benedict XVI gave his inaugural homily last Sunday, some Metro Detroit Muslims felt slighted that he made reference to Jews as brothers and sisters, but he failed to mention Muslims. It was the first signal to one of the world’s largest faiths how Benedict, elected to the papacy last month, might continue the church’s dialogue with Islam that Pope John Paul II began during his 26-year tenure. It followed critical reports of statements about Muslims that Benedict made when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and left some Muslims fearing that the new pope would not be friendly to Islam in the future. But after his inaugural homily, Benedict soon met with a delegation of Muslim leaders, which has given more hope to Muslims that bridges will continue to be built between the two faiths that many say will foster more peace, understanding and tolerance, especially in a post-September 11 world.
“John Paul II did a great deal to improve the relationship between the Muslims and the Christians of the world,” says Osama Siblani, editor of the Arab American News in Dearborn. “It’s in the interest of the new pope and Roman Catholic Church to maintain good relations with one-fifth of the world’s population.” With the rapid growth of Islam locally, relations with the faith are expected to be critical in Pope Benedict XVI’s administration. Nowhere could the issue be more visible in the United States than in Metro Detroit, where 1.5 million Catholics live with one of largest concentration of Muslims in the nation, along with the country’s largest mosque, which will open May 12 in Dearborn. Detroit Archbishop Cardinal Adam Maida is encouraged by Benedict’s outreach to Muslims, and Jews as well, and he plans to continue to be an ambassador locally, says Ned McGrath, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Detroit. “It punctuated what we’ve tried to do here, which is to maintain very good relations with the Muslim and Jewish community,” McGrath says. “The cardinal is very encouraged, and we will take that lead and will continue to work at it more diligently.”
Tensions were high between Christians and Muslims four years ago following the September 11, 2001, attacks by Muslim extremists on New York’s World Trade Center buildings which left thousands dead. After the attacks, Detroit Archbishop Cardinal Adam Maida made his first visit to a local mosque, the Islamic Center of America, at the request of the late Pope John Paul II. Other Christians and Jews also reached out to Muslims with interfaith dialogues and relations have since grown. (MORE)