From May 8 to 27, the Pontifical Gregorian University Foundation and the Jacques Maritain Institute will provide a course for 20 diplomats from predominantly Muslim countries concerning the Vatican's international policies. A news story about the course appeared yesterday in La-Croix, by Céline Hoyeau with AFP.
The course will be in Rome from May 8 to 20, and in Turin from May 21 to 28. Its purpose will be to provide diplomats and embassy representatives to the Vatican with formal instruction concerning the Holy See's international politics. The 20 representatives who plan to attend the course include those from Algeria, Albania, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria and Turkey. A diplomat from Montenegro has also been invited because of the large Muslim population of that country, although the majority of that nation's population is Orthodox. However, diplomats from Oman, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Tunisia turned down the invitation to attend.
The objective of the course will be to better enable the Muslim diplomats to act as mediators who can explain Vatican policies to their countries in a difficult political context, and to build a better understanding between Christian and Muslim faiths. According to the Jacques Maritain Institute website, the idea for the course grew from a visit of chancellors from Catholic universities to Cairo in 2005 on the invitation of the League of Arab Universities. The president of the Pontifical Gregorian University said the its Foundation had the idea for the project well before controversy arose over the Pope's lecture at Regensburg last fall.
The Vatican has intensified its efforts at interfaith dialogue with Muslims, and political diplomacy with predominantly Muslim countries, in recent months. On Friday, May 4, Pope Benedict XVI met for half an hour with the former president of Iran Mohammad Khatami. At the time of the Pope's lecture in Regensburg, Khatami was the first major Muslim leader to call on people to read the lecture before they criticized it. The Vatican statement about the meeting said that they discussed the situation facing Christians in middle eastern countries.