Catholics, Muslims agree to tackle terrorism, defend religious freedom

Catholic and Muslim leaders at landmark talks at the Vatican declared their determination to defend religious freedom, combat terrorism, and uphold the rights of women.

Nearly 60 Christian and Muslim leaders rounded up three days of meetings on Thursday with a joint declaration in which they affirmed "God's creation of humanity has two great aspects, the male and female human person, and we commit ourselves jointly to ensuring that human dignity and respect are extended on an equal basis to both men and women".

The declaration went on to affirm the right to practise one's faith without interference.

"Genuine love of neighbour implies respect of the person and her or his choices in matters of conscience and religion. It includes the right of individuals and communities to practice their religion in private and public," it stated.

The declaration added that Catholics and Muslims "were called to be instruments of love and harmony among believers, and for humanity as a whole, renouncing any oppression, violence and terrorism, especially that committed in the name of religion".

The meetings were part of an ongoing dialogue initiated after 138 Muslim clerics and scholars sent the A Common Word letter to Christian leaders urging the two faiths to find unity for the sake of world peace. They were also an effort to patch up relations after a speech by the Pope in 2006 angered large parts of the Muslim world because of its suggestion that Islam was a violent and irrational faith.

Catholics hope the talks will lead to an improvement in the situation for Christians facing persecution in Muslim-majority countries.

Pope Benedict described the meeting as a "clear sign of our mutual esteem and our desire to listen respectfully to one another".

"Let us resolve to overcome past prejudices and to correct the often distorted images of the other, which even today can create difficulties in our relations," he told the Muslim delegate.