Pope meets with Muslim diplomats

More than 20 Islamic countries represented

September 26, 2006|By Tracy Wilkinson | Tracy Wilkinson,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ROME -- Pope Benedict XVI brought together diplomats from more than 20 Islamic countries yesterday and told them that Christians and Muslims must overcome historical enmities and join to reject all forms of violence and intolerance.

The gathering at the pope's summer residence south of Rome was the latest effort by Pope Benedict to quell the furor stirred two weeks ago by remarks about Islam. He is attempting to channel the emotion into what he calls an authentic and respectful dialogue.

Expressing his "esteem and profound respect" for Muslim believers, the pope said world peace and the future of mankind depend in large part on the ability of Christians and Muslims to build "bridges of friendship" and engage one another as they confront danger and challenges.

"Faithful to the teachings of their own religious traditions, Christians and Muslims must learn to work together to guard against all forms of intolerance and to oppose all manifestations of violence," the pope said. And, as "religious authorities and political leaders, we must guide and encourage them in this direction."

Pope Benedict spoke in French for about five minutes, then greeted each participant, shaking hands and exchanging a few words. Although the pope meets annually with the full diplomatic corps, yesterday's hastily arranged session was a departure from usual practice and signaled the intensity with which the Vatican is seeking to defuse the crisis.

Privately, some of the participants at Castel Gandolfo expressed frustration that there was not more of an opportunity for give and take. But publicly most said they welcomed the encounter.

"It was a very positive meeting, and it could be more positive if we can consider this a starting point," said Sergio Yahe Pallavicini, one of about 20 representatives from Italy's Muslim communities who also attended.

"It was a meeting on dialogue and the pope spoke about dialogue, but it was a monologue," said Pallavicini. "It will be interesting to see how he reacts now and how open he is to dialogue."

Iraq's ambassador to the Holy See, Albert Edward Ismail Yelda, said he considered the meeting to be a major step forward.

"I think it is time to put what happened behind us and build bridges among all the civilizations," Yelda told reporters outside Castel Gandolfo. "The Holy Father expressed his profound respect for Islam and other religions; this is what we were expecting and this is what we had."

"The meeting has opened a new phase," said Abdallah Redouane, secretary-general of Rome's Islamic Cultural Center.

Pope Benedict sparked outrage in much of the Muslim world after quoting a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who attacked Islam as "evil and inhuman." The reference came during a long address Sept. 12 about faith and reason delivered to scholars at the University of Regensburg in Germany, where he taught theology in the 1970s.

Protests at times turned violent and might have led to the killing of an Italian nun last week in Somalia. The pope has personally apologized twice for the angry reactions, said that the emperor's comments did not reflect his own beliefs and insisted that he did not intend to cause offense.

Tracy Wilkinson writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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