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‘A Common Word’ in the News

Pope seeks accord with Muslims

Urges more freedom for worshippers of all beliefs


Pope Benedict XVI climaxed an unprecedented Muslim-Christian conference
of clergy and scholars in the Vatican yesterday by urging both
religions to defend common values, and he called for greater freedom of
worship for non-Muslims in the Islamic world.

“Dear friends, let us unite our efforts, animated by good will, in
order to overcome all misunderstanding and disagreements,” the
German-born pontiff said in a speech to a delegation from the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Western countries, who had an audience with Benedict in the Apostolic Palace.

“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 said at the close of the
three-day event.

The conference came two years after the pope outraged many Muslims by
indirectly linking Islam to violence in a speech he made at the German
city of Regensburg.

Among the Catholic delegates were Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the
head of the Vatican’s council on inter-religious dialogue, and Cardinal
Theodore McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Washington, together with
Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq.

“There is a great and vast field in which we can act together in
defending and promoting the moral values which are part of our common
heritage,” the pope told his guests, who were joined by the 29 Catholic
scholars and experts who took part in the closed-door discussions.

The conference included 29 Muslims.

In a joint statement the two delegations said that “religious
minorities are entitled to be respected in their own religious
convictions and practices.”

In Saudi Arabia, Christian symbols are prohibited and Muslims who convert to Christianity face the death penalty.

At a public debate in Rome’s Gregorian University, a spokesman for
an organization of Christian immigrants from the Middle East cautioned
that the exodus of persecuted Christians from Iraq to Syria, Jordan and
elsewhere means that the Christians of the Middle East “are becoming an
endangered species.”

Ibrahim Kalin,
spokesman for the Muslim delegation and an assistant professor at
Georgetown University, said in reply that the plight of Christians in
the Middle East was “a very small genocide” compared with the killings
of Muslims in the Bosnian war in the early 1990s.

Mr. Kalin said Iraqi Christians were the victims of “American and Israeli pressure” and the invasion of Iraq.

Asked by an Italian reporter whether they subscribed to the freedom
of individuals to change their religion, Mr. Kalin said “many Muslim
jurists are trying to re-interpret [Muslim teaching on] apostasy.”