Pope Stresses Religious Freedom At Forum

Pope Benedict XVI has stressed the importance of religious freedom in an address to the Vatican’s first Catholic-Islam forum.

“Political and religious leaders have the duty of ensuring … each individual’s freedom of conscience and freedom of religion,” Benedict said at the end of the three-day forum.

“My hope … is that these fundamental human rights will be protected for all people everywhere,” he told the Muslim and Catholic dignitaries from around the world.

The Vatican seminar was organised in response to a Muslim call for dialogue issued in October 2006, a month after Benedict’s controversial speech in Regensburg, Germany, seen as linking Islam with violence.

The forum “represents one more step along the way towards greater understanding between Muslims and Christians,” the pontiff said.

Speaking for the Muslim delegation, Seyyed Hossein Nasr of Iran, a professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University in Washington, said earlier that both Christians and Muslims “believe in religious freedom.”

However, he said: “We Muslims do not allow an aggressive proselytising in our midst that would destroy our faith in the name of freedom, any more than would Christians if they were in our situation.”

Benedict said: “This gathering is a clear sign of our mutual esteem and our desire to listen respectfully to one another.”

“The discrimination and violence which even today religious people experience throughout the world, and the often violent persecutions to which they are subject, represent unacceptable and unjustifiable acts, all the more grave and deplorable when they are carried out in the name of God,” he said.

Mustafa Ceric, the mufti of Bosnia who led the Muslim delegation, noted ahead of Benedict’s speech: “My brothers, Bosnian Muslims, suffered genocide” during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

© 2008 AFP