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Pope warns against use of religion in politics

AMMAN // Pope Benedict XVI warned against the “manipulation” of
religion for political ends yesterday as Jordan’s top religious adviser
publicly thanked the pontiff for expressing regrets for a 2006 speech
that was perceived as an insult to Islam.

Speaking at the King
Hussein bin Talal mosque in the Jordanian capital of Amman on the
second day of his much scrutinised, week-long pilgrimage to the Middle
East, the Pope told the crowd of diplomats and religious leaders that
twisting religion rather than faith itself could be a source of

“The contradiction of tensions and divisions between
the followers of different religious traditions sadly cannot be
denied,” he said. “However, is it not also the case that often it is
the ideological manipulation of religion sometimes for political ends
that is the real catalyst for tension and division and at times even
violence in society?”

His speech came after Prince Ghazi bin
Mohammed, the top religious adviser to his cousin King Abdullah,
attempted to draw a final line over the controversy by thanking Pope
Benedict for the clarification of the 2006 Regensburg speech when he
quoted a medieval emperor who described the Prophet Muhammed’s
teachings as “evil and inhuman”.

Shortly afterwards, Pope Benedict said he regretted his comments.

Muslims also especially appreciated the clarification by the Vatican
that what was said in the Regensburg lecture did not reflect Your
Holiness’s own opinion but rather was simply a citation in an academic
lecture,” Prince Ghazi said yesterday.

The Pope’s expression was impassive as the prince spoke.

He made no reference to it.

Prince Ghazi, a major figure in the arena of interfaith dialogue, is
believed to be the most senior figure in the Muslim world so far to
publicly express acceptance of the Pope’s regrets over the controversy.

There has been little popular enthusiasm from the Muslim
majority country about the Pope’s visit compared to the reception the
public gave the late Pope John Paul II in 2000.

Prince Ghazi
gave the Pope a tour of the mosque, a graceful edifice of pale yellow
stone where the pontiff briefly stopped in a “respectful moment of
reflection” but did not “pray in a Christian sense”, a Vatican
spokesman said.

The only sour note was hit when he did not take
off his shoes before stepping inside the mosque which everyone is
required to do. A Vatican spokesman said later that the Pope did not do
so because his hosts did not ask him.

The papal visit to the
Arab country has been defined so far by the Vatican’s efforts to repair
relations between the Abrahamic faiths by speaking of the common bonds
between them.

At one point, Pope Benedict even referred to God as
“merciful and compassionate,” using the Islamic phrase when referring
to Allah.

However, he also hinted at the restrictions Christians face in many Muslim countries.

freedom is, of course, a fundamental human right and it is my fervent
hope and prayer that respect for the inalienable rights and dignity of
every man and woman will come to be increasingly affirmed and
defended,” he said.

Earlier in the day the pontiff retraced the
steps of the prophet Moses to Mount Nebo where the Bible says he saw
the promised land.

He prayed at the Basilica of The Memorial
of Moses, a fourth century church built to commemorate the place of the
prophet’s death although his precise burial place is not actually

Pope Benedict reminded Christians and Jews of their shared heritage.

our encounter today inspire in us a renewed love for the canon of
sacred scripture … and a desire to overcome all obstacles to the
reconciliation of Christians and Jews in mutual respect and
co-operation,” he said.

But as a foretaste of the difficult time
he faces in Israel next week, the Israeli government has demanded that
he explicitly condemn Catholics who deny the Holocaust.

minister of religious affairs, Yaakov Margi, said the Pope’s visit to
the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial scheduled for tomorrow would give the
Vatican the opportunity to “unequivocally condemn and distance itself
from Holocaust deniers”.

At Mount Nebo the Pope gave a brief
prayer service in the open air church, which is being renovated. Then
he slowly walked across a floral carpet laid out for his visit to the
serpentine cross which stands on the edge of the mountain looking west
towards Jerusalem.


* With additional reporting by Suha Philip Ma’ayeh