Vatican City — The Vatican said interreligious dialogue with the Muslim community must be strengthened given "the barbarism underway" by terrorists claiming to be Muslims.
The statement, issued by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, comes after hundreds of Christians have been killed in recent months, often barbarically, by Islamist extremist groups in the Middle East, Libya, Nigeria, Kenya and several other African nations. Most recently, more than 20 Ethiopian Christians were killed by Islamic State militants in Libya. Thousands of other Christians in war-torn regions have been run out of their homes by Islamist groups.
Pope Francis and other church leaders have called on the international community to come to the aid of persecuted Christians in these regions.
In the face of the atrocities, the pontifical council said some people are questioning whether interreligious dialogue with the Muslim community should continue.
"The answer is yes, more than ever," said the council in its statement Wednesday. "First, because the vast majority of Muslims do not recognize themselves in the barbarism underway."
The council cited Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI in saying that the use of religion to justify violence must be condemned.
Lamenting that "religion is often associated with violence" today, the council said people of faith must instead demonstrate that "religions are called to be heralds of peace and not of violence."
In the wake of the attacks on Christians, the council said there was a "radicalization of communitarian and religious discourse," which it warned only risks increasing "hatred, violence, terrorism and the growing and trivial stigmatization of Muslims and of their religion."
The proper response, the council said, is a "strengthening of fraternity and dialogue."
"To continue dialoguing, even when you experience persecution, can become a sign of hope," the council said. "It's not that believers want to impose their vision of the person or of history, but they want to propose the respect of difference, freedom of thought and religion, the protection of human dignity and love for truth."
"We must have the courage to review the quality life in the family, the ways religion and history are taught, the content of the sermons in our places of worship," the council suggested. The family and education are "the keys" that will create a world "based on reciprocal respect and fraternity."
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