- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI, who is sometimes characterized as intolerant of other faiths, pleaded for “calmness and clarity” in discussions yesterday 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 various faiths at the Pope 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 faiths from around the world.

His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, showed support of other faiths by visiting a synagogue and a mosque, acknowledging the sins of Christians against Muslims and Jews and establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.

Benedict has not garnered the same reputation.

He was rebuked by the Indian government and the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in 2006 after saying that efforts to ban conversions showed “disturbing signs of religious intolerance.”

The Muslim world roiled with anger the same year when the pope quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor as saying the prophet Muhammad had brought “things only “evil and inhuman.” On Easter Sunday this year, he baptized a Muslim convert.

Members of the Jewish faith were concerned that Benedict revived language largely eliminated in the Vatican II reforms of the 1960s. The Good Friday prayer in Latin appears to call for the conversion of Jews.

Benedict has made efforts to re-establish solidarity. He has visited a synagogue and plans to stop at another one during his visit to New York. At the Blue Mosque in Turkey, he became the second pontiff to visit a Muslim place of worship.

The pope yesterday said all faiths contribute to society by addressing “the deeper questions concerning the origin and destiny of mankind.”

He praised religious freedom in the United States, noting that French historian Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that 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 at Catholic University presented gifts to the pope.

The pontiff told the group of Jewish leaders that “naturally, our shared hope for peace embraces the Middle East and the Holy Land.”

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

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. al Qazwini said.

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