Catholic, Islamic Scholars Focus On Religious Minorities

Catholic and Muslim scholars at an unprecedented Vatican forum have vowed to work together to strengthen protections for religious minorities.

In a 15-point joint declaration, 58 scholars and leaders also agreed Thursday to work together to combat violence and terrorism – especially when carried out in the name of religion.

Pope Benedict addressed the gathering earlier Thursday, on the third and final day of the forum. He urged leaders of both faiths to overcome misunderstandings and work together to help victims of disease, hunger, poverty and violence.

Benedict also urged religious leaders across the world to respect each individual’s freedom of conscience and of religion, and called persecution based on religious differences “unacceptable and unjustifiable acts.”

The Vatican forum was organized in response to a call for dialogue from Islamic leaders in 2006.

That call came shortly after the pope angered the Muslim world with a speech in which he quoted a medieval critic as calling the Islamic faith violent and irrational.

Benedict later stressed he did not share that view, and expressed remorse for the violent reaction to his comments in parts of the Islamic world.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.