In Jordan, pope stresses Christian-Muslim harmony

AMMAN, Jordan (CNN) — On the second day of his visit to the Middle East, Pope Benedict XVI stressed the need for harmony and unity between Christians and Muslims.

“Muslims and Christians, precisely because of the burden of our common history, so often marked by misunderstanding, must today strive to be known and recognized as worshippers of God, faithful to prayer, eager to uphold and lift by the Almighty decrees,” the pontiff said in an address at the King Hussein Bin Talal mosque in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

Often, “it is the ideological manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends, that is a real catalyst for tension and division” between faiths, the pope said.

Pope Benedict also spoke about Iraq’s Christians, asking the international community to “do everything possible to ensure that the ancient Christian community of that noble land has a fundamental right to peaceful coexistence with their fellow citizens.”
Watch how Jordanians feel about the pope’s visit »

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the pope did not pray inside the mosque.

The pontiff arrived Friday in Amman for a weeklong visit to the Middle East that he said he hopes will “foster good relations between Christians and Muslims.”

It is the first papal visit to some of Christianity’s most holy places since Pope John Paul II made the pilgrimage in 2000. Watch the difference between two popes: the populist and the professor »

“My visit to Jordan gives me a welcome opportunity to speak of my deep respect for the Muslim community and to be treated to the leadership shown by his majesty, the king … in promoting a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam,” the pontiff said in a brief address shortly after arriving in the city.

Two years ago, Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech that caused friction between the Muslim and Christian communities when he quoted a Byzantine emperor who said the teachings of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed were “evil and inhuman.”

The remarks sparked an outcry from Muslims around the world, and the pope later apologized, saying the emperor’s words did not express his personal convictions.

On Monday, the pope flies to Tel Aviv to begin his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories. He is scheduled to pay courtesy visits to Jerusalem’s Muslim grand mufti and two chief rabbis. The pontiff will return to Rome next Friday.

The pope has also faced tension with Jews during his four years as head of the Roman Catholic Church, after he reinstated a bishop who had been excommunicated after he denied the Holocaust.

Bishop Richard Williamson was one of four bishops excommunicated 20 years ago for belonging to a group that rebelled against the Vatican’s modernizing reforms in the 1960s.

All four bishops were reinstated in January, but shortly before that, Williamson said in an interview with Swedish television that he did not believe that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler deliberately set out to murder Jews, or that there were gas chambers at the Auschwitz death camp.

The Vatican ordered Williamson to recant and said the pope was not aware of Williamson’s views on the Holocaust when he lifted the excommunication.

Pope Benedict later admitted to making mistakes in the decision, saying the church should have been aware of his views. Williamson apologized for his remarks but did not recant them.