Pope Benedict XVI Visits Jordan Mosque In Effort To Heal Vatican’s Rift With Islam

Pope Benedict XVI has visited a mosque in Jordan in an effort to heal a rift between the Vatican and the Muslim world, appealing to the “common history” of Islam and Christianity.

In an unprecedented speech at a mosque in the Jordanian capital Amman, the Pope made no symbolic gestures of unity, such as praying with his Muslim hosts or even removing his shoes as he entered the prayer hall.

Nor did he make reference to the criticism he continues to receive for quoting a text three years ago which described aspects of Islam as “evil and inhuman”.

But he referred to God by the common Muslim epithets, “the compassionate and merciful”, and said that both creeds should unite to in the face of opponents of religion who “seek to silence its voice”.

“The contradiction of tensions and divisions between the followers of different religious traditions, sadly, cannot be denied,” he told an audience of Muslim and Christian leaders, diplomats and government ministers. “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?”

The Pope’s tour of Jordan, Israel and West Bank remains deeply controversial among both Muslims and Jews, while even some Palestinian Christians have said that he should not be visiting Israel so soon after the invasion of Gaza.

In Jordan, the Muslim Brotherhood, the main Islamist organisation which has six members of parliament, has boycotted the tour, saying that the Pope has not apologised sufficiently for his address at Regensburg, Germany, in 2006, which quoted medieval hostility to the Prophet Mohammed.

At the King Hussein Mosque, though, the cousin and principal religious adviser to King Abdullah, Prince Ghazi, agreed that the dispute should be put in the past.

“I must also thank Your Holiness for the ‘regret’ you expressed after the Regensburg lecture,” he said. “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.”

The Pope himself looked on impassively as he listened. He has been met in Jordan without the enthusiasm that greeted his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who made a similar, ground-breaking tour in 2000.

While Pope John Paul II was filmed praying as he became the first Pontiff to enter a mosque, the Umayyed Mosque in Damascus, in 2001, Pope Benedict made no such gesture.

His spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, later said that he had paused for a moment of silent meditation, but had not “prayed in a Christian sense”.

The two sides overcame one diplomatic obstacle: whether he would remove his shoes. Fr Lombardi said the visiting party, including the Pope, had been prepared to remove their shoes, but that their hosts had laid down a mat in such a way that this did not prove necessary.

Earlier, the Pope visited Mount Nebo, the spot from which Moses is first supposed to have set eyes upon the Holy Land, while tomorrow he will hold a mass for Jordan’s Christian community, about three per cent of the population of seven million.

On Monday, he travels on to Israel, where he will visit the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. He will also have to face continued criticism over his attitude to the Nazi past of his German homeland.

In particular, he has defended the war-time Pope Pius XII, regarded by Israel as not having done enough to protect the Jews of Europe from the Holocaust.