Pope could visit Scotland to sign interfaith charter on 'shared humanity'

A banner of Pope Francis outside the Metropolitan Cathedral before his visit to Mexico City.Reuters

Pope Francis is intending to come to Scotland in September to sign a ten-point declaration on the "shared humanity" of people of all faiths and none.

The Vatican has told the conference organiser that the Pope is "minded" to attend the event at the University of St Andrew's. It would be his first visit to the UK since becoming Pope. 

The conference, Silence, Texts and Service: Towards a Christian, Hindu and Buddhist Dialogue, is organised by the Centre for the Study of Religion and Politics at the university. The Pope's possible visit to Scotland was announced on the eve of his high-profile visit to Mexico.

The conference will open with the signing of the "St Andrews Declaration on a Shared Humanity" by religious leaders, foreign ambassadors and others from across the faith and university spectrum.

There will also be a lecture by Professor Francis X. Clooney SJ, Parkman Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School and director of the Centre for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University.

This will be followed by lectures in Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam.

St Andrew's Declaration on a Shared Humanity

The declaration is understood to have the backing of Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.

Professor of religion and politics at St Andrews, Mario Aguilar, told Christian Today that he invited the Pope to take part out of a passion for wanting to explore what different faiths have in common as opposed to focusing on their differences. He was informed that Pope Francis, who supports as many interfaith intitiatives as he can, is "minded" to attend. But the Pontiff's final schedule for the rest of the year will not be set until after Easter and an international crisis or significant event elsewhere could still keep him away.

Prof Aguilar has met the Pope and wrote an authorised biography.

He continued: "I got a letter saying the Pope was 'minded' to attend. I have seen him since. He told me that if he can be here, he will be here." 

Prof Aguilar added: "Religion at the moment has a bad press. Everything we see on television seems to indicate to our young people that to be a religious person is to be either an extremist, a paedophile or a person who really does not care about others." He said he believes the answer is not to try to gloss over the fundamental differences between faiths, but to look instead at what they have in common, and key to this is a shared humanity. 

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow, Scotland during his visit to Britain in September 2010.Osservatoro Romano/Scotland

A visit by Pope Francis to such a conference would be relatively low-profile compared to 2010 when Scotland's 850,000 Catholics celebrated a visit by Pope Benedict XVI. He would fly in and out on the same day, in a private and academic capacity, not a pastoral one. 

St Andrew's is home to the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence which publishes the well-respected Journal of Terrorism Research.