Pope sees Islamic envoys in attempt to heal rift
September 26, 2006
THE Pope made a determined attempt yesterday to end a wave of anger over his remarks on Islam when he staged an unprecedented meeting with envoys from 21 Muslim countries. 
“Christians and Muslims must learn to work together in order to guard against all forms of intolerance,” he told them at his summer residence of Castelgandolfo outside Rome.  He called for reconciliation and bridges of friendship. It was the fourth time that the Pope had sought to make amends for the outrage caused by his remarks at Regensburg University on a trip to his native Germany two weeks ago. He has not made an apology. 

Putting a positive spin on the row, Vatican officials said that yesterday’s encounter showed that the furore had resulted in a fruitful outcome by stimulating dialogue. “One might say his intervention was providential,” said Father Federico Lombardi, the recently appointed Vatican spokesman. “Dialogue is returning to normal after moments of misunderstanding,” he said, and would now be “ even richer”. 

The 30-minute meeting was broadcast live on Vatican radio and television and by al-Jazeera. The Pope’s remarks were translated on the Vatican website into Arabic as well as English and Italian. The Pope, speaking in French, expressed his “esteem and respect” for Islam at the meeting with envoys to the Holy See from 21 Muslim countries, and the leaders of Italy’s Muslim community. Quoting from the Second Vatican Council, which he called “the Magna Carta of Muslim-Christian dialogue”, he said that both “worship the one God”. 

He added: “Dear friends, I am profoundly convinced that in the current world situation it is imperative that Christians and Muslims engage with one another in order to address the challenges that present themselves to humanity, especially those concerning the defence and promotion of the dignity of the human person.” 

Albert Edward Ismail Yelda, the Iraqi Ambassador, said: “I pray to Almighty God the crisis is now behind us. We need to sit together — Muslims, Christians, Jews and the rest of religions, to find common ground for peaceful coexistence.” 

Tight security surrounded the meeting and Vatican officials said that no refreshments had been offered out of respect for the holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown. 

The Pope had quoted the 14th-century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, as saying that the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad were “evil and inhuman”, including commanding his followers “to spread the faith by the sword”. 

The Pope said that in quoting, though not endorsing, the emperor he had meant to make clear that religion went with reason and not violence. 

Islamic nations represented included Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Turkey, Syria and Pakistan, but not Saudi Arabia, which does not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Vatican officials complain that although Saudi money funds mosques in Europe, Christians are not allowed to worship in Saudi Arabia. The Pope referred to the need for “reciprocity and religious freedom”. The Vatican hopes that doubts over the Pope’s planned trip to Turkey in November will disappear. 

José Manuel Barroso, the EU Commission President, said yesterday he was disappointed that few European leaders had defended the Pope’s right to express his views, adding: “The problem is not the comments of the Pope but the reactions of the extremists.” 


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