Back in March 2014, a delegation of US bishops made a historic visit to Qom, Iran and held a meeting with Iranian religious leaders. On November 17, an audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC will have the chance to hear firsthand what they discussed in Qom, and during a subsequent meeting in Rome in June of this year.
The first meeting focused on the need for a world free of nuclear weapons. Following up on opportunities presented by this visit, in July 2014, Ploughshares Fund provided a $50,000 grant to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to build a sustainable and effective channel of communication between US and Iranian religious leaders. Supporting such ‘Track II’ dialogues can indirectly aid official negotiations around tough issues, in this case, talks around Western sanctions and Iran’s nuclear program.
Although purely a people to people moral dialogue, the sensitive political situation made it difficult for a reciprocal delegation of Muslim clerics from Iran to visit the US, so the two parties met in Rome. The June 5-10 encounter focused on the moral tenets of each faith, especially as they relate to human rights, weapons of mass destruction, and terrorism. Keeping this constructive dialogue open remains important – even though the Iran nuclear agreement has entered into effect and is working, relationships between Iranians and Americans remain fragile.
Ayatollah Mahdi Hadavi Moghaddam Tehrani and Ayatollah Abolghasem Alidoost headed the five-member Iranian delegation. Representatives from the USCCB participating in the dialogue included Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chair of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace; Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington; Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa; and Bishop Denis Madden, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore. Bishops Cantú, Madden and Pates will report out on the Qom and Rome meetings during the November 17th Washington, DC event.
Following the dialogue, a joint declaration was issued by US Catholic bishops and Iranian religious leaders calling for developing a culture of encounter, tolerance, dialogue and peace that respects the religious traditions of others. The leaders emphasized that they regard the development and use of weapons of mass destruction and acts of terrorism as "immoral."
"Together," Bishop Cantú said on the occasion, "we commit ourselves to continued dialogue on the most pressing issues facing the human family, such as poverty, injustice, intolerance, terrorism, and war." He called the joint declaration "the fruit of sincere dialogue between two religions that are united in their concern for the life and dignity of the human person."
Ploughshares Fund is proud to support these extraordinary dialogues, which aid in fostering cross-border understanding around the thorniest problem we face today: the risks associated with nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons proliferation.