A small group of US Catholic bishops and Iranian ayatollahs quietly began in March what they intend to be an ongoing dialogue on nuclear weapons and the role of faith leaders in influencing political moves on the issue of Iran's nuclear programme.
The meetings in Iran, hosted by the Supreme Council of Seminary Teachers of Qom, began with basic discussions of areas of philosophical and theological commonality between Catholicism and Islam, and concluded with a commitment to issue a joint statement, said the US bishop who led the delegation.
The four-day session between three US bishops and four prominent Muslim scholars and ayatollahs began with contacts facilitated by two Iranian-American doctoral students of John Steinbruner, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland and a consultant to the US bishops' conference's Committee on International Peace and Justice.
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington, Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, and Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop Denis. J. Madden met Seyyed Mahmoud, (pictured left), at the Ayatollah Marashi Najafi Library in the northern city of Qom in March.
Committee chairman Bishop Richard E Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, told the US-based Catholic News Service on Tuesday that the trip was in keeping with the emphasis made by Pope Francis on dialogue being "the key to discovering truth and avoiding misunderstanding". He explained that Professor Steinbruner had suggested such a dialogue to the committee. Once the bishops agreed, he and the students, along with bishop's conference staff, spent a year making arrangements. The State Department and the Vatican were advised of the project, but it remained an independent activity.
Above: With the bishops and the ayatollah was Stephen Colecchi (right), director of the U.S. bishops ' office of International Justice and Peace. Photo: CNS/courtesy Stephen M. Colecchi