VATICAN CITY (AP) — Christians and Muslims must overcome their
misunderstandings, Pope Benedict XVI told Muslim clergy and scholars
Thursday as he pressed for greater freedom of worship for non-Muslims
in the Islamic world.
His meeting in the Apostolic Palace with a
delegation of scholars and other Muslim representatives capped a
three-day conference in Rome involving Catholic clergy and professors
and Islamic experts. Benedict told participants he had followed the
“progress” of the talks closely.
The pope’s baptism of a
prominent Egyptian-born Muslim last Easter in St. Peter’s Basilica
upset some in the Muslim world. Benedict also angered Muslims with
comments linking Islam to violence in a speech in 2006.
friends, let us unite our efforts, animated by good will, in order to
overcome all misunderstanding and disagreements,” the pope said in a
speech to the delegates. “Let us resolve to overcome past prejudices
and to correct the often distorted images of the other, which even
today can create difficulties in our relations.”
Benedict has expressed regret for any offense caused by his 2006 remarks.
repairing strained relations, the Vatican views the talks between both
sides as an opportunity to push for better treatment of Christians in
parts of the Muslim world.
In Saudi Arabia, non-Muslims cannot
worship in public, Christian symbols like crosses cannot be openly
displayed and Muslims who convert face death. The Vatican has also
spoken out about the plight of Christians in Iraq, where churches have
been attacked, clergy kidnapped and many faithful forced to flee the
Benedict expressed hope that fundamental rights will be “protected for all people everywhere.”
discrimination and violence which even today religious people
experience throughout the world, and the often-violent persecutions to
which they are subject, represent unacceptable and unjustifiable acts,”
the pope continued.
The call for tolerance also applies to
countries that are essentially “failed states” for their Muslim
citizens, too, said Hamza Yusuf Hanson, a U.S.-based scholar among the
“Muslims are suffering under the yoke of
tyrannies where rights which should be afforded to anyone” are denied,
Hanson told reporters.
The discussions at the Vatican made
important strides, according to Abdal Hakim Murad Winter, an Islamic
studies lecturer at the Divinity School at England’s Cambridge
“Both sides agreed to respect the sanctity” of each other’s beliefs and to “not tolerate any mockery,” Winter told journalists.
Mustafa Ceric of Bosnia predicted that Barack Obama’s election and
family background will foster better Muslim-Christian understanding.
is a Christian. Yet the U.S. president-elect’s grandfather in Kenya
converted to Islam from Roman Catholicism, according to the
grandfather’s second wife, and Obama spent part of his childhood in
Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim nation.
Catholic delegates to
the conference included Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who heads the
Vatican’s council on interreligious dialogue, retired Washington, D.C.
archbishop, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Chaldean Archbishop Louis
Sako of the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.