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 CNS Story:

MADDEN Sep-30-2008 (560 words) With photo. xxxn

Bishop hopes new initiative can bring peace between U.S. and Muslims

By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A new report calling for stronger diplomatic relations between the United States and Muslims around the world is a step toward peace, said Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden of Baltimore.

"It offers a very good approach to what can be done" and also stresses that the divide between the United States and the Muslim world is "not as wide as people make it out to be," said the bishop, one of 34 American leaders who produced the 146-page document "Changing Course: A New Direction for U.S. Relations With the Muslim World."

The report was created by the Leadership Group on U.S.-Muslim Engagement, which included representatives from religious, business, military, foreign policy, academic, foundation and nonprofit circles. The group released the report Sept. 24, a day after briefing members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and members of Congress on its key points.

The project involved 18 months of examining various polls and studies of Muslim and American attitudes and coming up with possible solutions for improving relations, including not only more diplomacy but also a major investment in economic development in Muslim countries that would create more jobs for youths.

The report urges the next U.S. administration to take immediate steps. It calls on the next president to renounce the use of torture and to appoint a special envoy to facilitate negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Bishop Madden told Catholic News Service Sept. 26 that he only became involved in the initiative in recent months but that he was impressed by the work of the committee members and the body's bipartisan nature.

"We all signed off on the document, even though there wasn't always full agreement," he said.

The bishop, who previously served as associate secretary-general of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and director of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine office in Jerusalem, said part of his involvement included telling the group what Catholic leaders have said about dialogue between Muslims and Christians.

He spoke to the group about Pope Benedict XVI's statement earlier this year that stressed the need for "uninterrupted pursuit of diplomacy in trying to resolve issues." He also quoted Catholic leaders and statements from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pointing to the need to "listen and learn from each other."

The bishop said the new report "puts Muslim extremism into perspective" by pointing out how people frequently "paint an image of a whole society from an image of one group" that is more extreme.

He said many conflicts in U.S. and Muslim relations have stemmed from religious extremism. It frequently occurs, he said, when terrorists claim a religious basis for their actions, yet they "do not represent the real teaching of Islam."

Bishop Madden said people of both faiths should look to the common aspects of their beliefs, such as "roots in Abraham, the place of high honor for Jesus and Mary in the Quran and ties to the Old Testament that go without saying."

He is hopeful that the groundwork established by the group will now "move forward" through steps taken by U.S. political leaders. The report's committee members will be addressing upcoming congressional hearings. Bishop Madden also hopes they will be invited to speak on the campuses of Catholic universities.


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