The Archbishop of Westminster and four British imams will meet with Pope Francis next week in a long planned trip that the Cardinal says will help build interfaith relations following the Westminster terrorist attack which left five dead and around 50 injured.
They are due to have a papal audience on 5 April, exactly two weeks after Islamic extremist Khalid Masood, drove a car into pedestrians crossing Westminster bridge before fatally stabbing a police officer outside the Houses of Parliament.
“Next week I will bring four Muslim leaders of Britain to Pope Francis to say that religious leaders want and are committed to building relations,” the cardinal told Italian religious news service SIR, with the meeting expected to take place in Francis’ residence, the Casa Santa Marta on Wednesday morning.
“The dialogue between people who believe in God creates a common space … it is a duty for religious leaders to speak to one another, meet, explore common solutions together, address the question of religious belief that begets extremism and violence.”
He went on: “But be careful of relegating faith to a private sphere because that contributes still more to the isolation of communities and does not help the construction of an inclusive society.”
Soon after the Westminster attack, the cardinal was swift to both condemn the violence but stress that hatred should not be directed against Muslims, and that violence in the name of God can never be justified.
“If we make enemies out of people who are our friends then we are falling into the very trap that the violent people want us to fall into,” he told the BBC. “So there is no space for hatred for those who are our friends, or for hatred for the Muslim population in general in this country, no reprisals, no sense that we are targeting our condemnation at anyone other than those who perpetrate those things.”
For his part, the Pope has condemned religiously-inspired terrorism while also being careful to de-link violent acts from the Islamic faith: he has instead sought to build bridges with the Muslim world and is preparing to visit Egypt next month.
Considered as a “peripheral” figure by security services, 52-year-old Masood was older than most jihadi terrorists and authorities believe he carried out the violence as a “lone actor”, despite Islamic State claiming to be the inspiration behind for the attack.
Cardinal Nichols said the incident must be “interpreted” in all its different aspects, pointing out that Masood, who had been living in Birmingham before the attack, “was a man with a long history of violence. He was in prison five or six times, and those who knew him speak of a very angry man.”
The cardinal has long experience of interfaith dialogue dating back to his period as Archbishop of Birmingham where he developed good relations with the Islamic community in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
PICTURE – Muslim leaders joined victims and their families, representatives of the emergency services, and representatives of all faiths in a vigil on Westminster Bridge exactly a week after Khalid Masood killed three people when he drove his car into pedestrians, and then, after crashing, fatally stabbed PC Keith Palmer outside Parliament before being shot dead by police.