- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI, who is sometimes characterized as intolerant of other faiths, pleaded for “calmness and clarity” in discussions today about religious differences.

The pope said it is the responsibility of all to “discover points of commonality.”

“While always uniting our hearts and minds in the call for peace, we must also listen attentively to the voice of truth. In this way, our dialogue will not stop at identifying a common set of values, but go on to probe the ultimate foundation,” said Benedict, addressing 200 leaders of different faiths at the John Paul II Cultural Center at Catholic University,

“We have no reason to fear, for the truth unveils for us the essential relationship between the world and God.”

He met with Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist leaders, as well as representatives of other various faiths from around the world.

While his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, was seen as supportive of all faiths — he visited a synagogue and a mosque, acknowledged the sins of Christians against Muslims and Jews and established diplomatic relations with Israel — Pope Benedict has not garnered the same reputation.

His criticism of India in 2006 for what he said were “disturbing signs of religious intolerance” over efforts to ban conversions drew a sharp response from the government and the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Muslim world reacted with anger that same year when the pope quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor as saying the Prophet Mohammad had brought the world only “evil and inhuman” things, and drew more criticism last month by baptizing a Muslim convert.

In addition, Jews were worried over his recent approval of a Good Friday prayer in Latin appearing to call for the conversion of Jews, reviving language largely eliminated in reforms of the 1960s.

But the pope has made efforts to re-establish solidarity. He, too, visited a synagogue and will do so again during his visit to New York. He also visited the Blue Mosque in Turkey, becoming the second pontiff to visit a Muslim place of worship.

The pope yesterday said all faiths contribute to society by focusing on “the deeper questions concerning the origin and destiny of mankind.” And he praised religious freedom in the United States, noting that French historian Alexis de Tocqueville wrote religion and freedom are “intimately linked.”

“Americans have always valued the ability to worship freely and in accordance with their conscience. Today, in classrooms throughout the country, young Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and indeed children of all religions, sit side by side, learning with one another and from one another,” he said.

The pope expressed support for faith-based schools, saying “young people learn to respect the beliefs and practices of others, thus enhancing a nation’s civic life.”

The religious leaders presented the pope with gifts before each split off for separate meetings. The pontiff addressed the group of Jewish leaders, saying “naturally, our shared hope for peace embraces the Middle East and the Holy Land.”

Muslim Public Affairs Council, an advocacy group based in Los Angeles, turned down an invitation to attend the meeting.

But Imam Sayed Hassan al Qazwini, religious director of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Mich., said his meeting with the pope was fruitful.

“Christians and Muslims make up more than 50 percent of the world population and there’s a definite need to have a dialogue ongoing, and he agreed,” Mr. Qazwini said.

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