Monday, September 25, 2006

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI told Muslim diplomats today that Christians and Muslims must work together to guard against intolerance and violence as he sought to soothe anger over his recent remarks about Islam.

The pontiff also quoted from his predecessor, John Paul II, who had close relations with the Muslim world, calling for “reciprocity in all fields,” including religious freedom. Benedict spoke in French to diplomats from 21 countries and the Arab League in his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo near Rome.

“The circumstances which have given risen to our gathering are well known,” Benedict said, referring to his remarks on Islam in a Sept. 12 speech at Regensburg University in Germany, which set off protests around the Muslim world.

He did not dwell on the contested remarks, in which he had quoted the words of a Byzantine emperor thusly: “Show me just what [prophet] Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

Benedict’s five-minute speech today touched only briefly on religion and violence. He said Christians and Muslims “must learn to work together — to guard against all forms of intolerance and to oppose all manifestations of violence.”

After his speech, in a salon in the papal palace in the Alban Hills, Benedict greeted each envoy one by one. He clasped their hands warmly and chatted for a few moments with each of the diplomats.

Iraq’s ambassador to the Holy See said Benedict’s address to the envoys should end the anger over the university address.

“The Holy Father stated his profound respect for Islam. This is what we were expecting,” Iraqi envoy Albert Edward Ismail Yelda said as he left the 30-minute meeting. “It is now time to put what happened behind and build bridges.”

Al Jazeera, the Arab-language broadcaster, carried the pope’s speech live. In a departure from usual practice, the Vatican press office included a translation of the speech in Arabic.

Nearly all the other ambassadors drove away without stopping to speak to reporters outside the papal palace. Among predominantly Muslim nations with diplomatic relations to the Vatican, only Sudan did not participate in the meeting. Saudi Arabia does not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

When the protests started flaring, Benedict offered deep regrets for offense felt by Muslims and insisted his remarks did not reflect his own opinion and were misunderstood. He stopped short of a full apology that some Muslim leaders demanded.

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