Pope Visits Mosque In Muslim Outreach

AMMAN, Jordan | Pope Benedict XVI visited a mosque in the Jordanian capital Saturday, the second day of his Middle East visit, in an effort to mend fences with a Muslim world still smarting from his remarks three years ago linking the prophet Muhammad with violence.

Speaking at the new King Hussein bin Talal Mosque, the largest in Jordan, Benedict, 82, urged Christians and Muslims to work together for peace in the region.

“I firmly believe Christians and Muslims can embrace [the task of cooperation] particularly through our respective contributions to learning and scholarship, and public service,” Reuters news agency quoted him as telling Islamic leaders and diplomats at the mosque.

It was Benedict’s second visit to a mosque. He visited Istanbuls Blue Mosque during a 2006 visit to Turkey.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the pope did not remove his shoes or pray while in the mosque, as he did during his visit to the mosque in Turkey, but rather paused for “a respectful moment of reflection,” Reuters reported.

Catholic conservatives criticized the pope in 2006 after he prayed toward Mecca with the imam of the mosque in Istanbul.

Prince Ghazi bin Mohammed bin Talal, a cousin and top religious adviser to Jordan’s King Abdullah II, welcoming the pope to the Amman mosque, recalled Benedict’s 2006 speech in Germany that fueled widespread Muslim anger. He thanked Benedict for expressing his “regrets … for the hurt caused by this lecture to Muslims.”

Prince Ghazi, a leading figure in the “Common Word” group of Muslim scholars promoting dialogue with Christians, praised the pope for his “friendly gestures and kindly actions toward Muslims” since the 2006 speech prompted outrage.

During that lecture, the pope quoted a medieval text calling some of Muhammad’s teachings “evil and inhuman.” The remarks sparked outrage through the Muslim world. He later said the passage did not reflect his personal views.

But the spokesman of Jordan’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood, Jamil Abu-Bakr, insisted the pope should make a public apology – otherwise “obstacles and boundaries will remain and will overshadow any possible understanding between the pope and the Muslim world.”

The Brotherhood is Jordan’s largest opposition group. Although its presence in parliament is small, it commands a strong following, especially among poor Jordanians, because of the valuable social services it provides.

At the mosque in Amman on Saturday, the pope did not express any regret or apology to Muslims, and that left some Muslim leaders disappointed.

Muslim cleric Sheik Youssef Abu Hussein, who attended the mosque event, acknowledged the value of the popes overtures to begin a “new page” with the Muslim community, but agreed with the sentiments held by the Brotherhood and others.

“The required apology should be said clearly,” Sheik Abu Hussein said, signaling the lingering doubts among some Muslims of the popes intentions. “He should clearly admit that what he said was not appropriate about the prophet of mercy.”

Jordanian Sen. Nawal Faouri said it was time to let the issue rest. “I think the pope already apologized when he visited Turkey,” he said after the popes address. “We need to forgive ourselves and others if we feel that something wasnt done on purpose. Thats the only way we can really live in peace.”

Jordan is the pontiff’s first stop on his weeklong Holy Land pilgrimage and his first visit to an Arab country.

Upon his arrival in this moderate, predominantly Muslim nation on Friday, the pope declared his “deep respect for the Muslim community” and praised Abdullah for “promoting a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam.”

Later Friday, the pope visited a Catholic center for the handicapped in the Jordanian capital.

After spending three days in Amman, the pontiff will cross the Jordan River on Monday to spend five days in Israel and the West Bank, the first visit there of a pope since the highly successful pilgrimage of the popular John Paul II in 2000.

Subdued Muslim anger over Benedict’s 2006 lecture is likely to stalk him across the river.

In the Israeli Arab city of Nazareth, which the pope is to visit, radical Muslims have hung a banner near the Church of the Annunciation quoting a passage from the Koran: “Those who harm God and his Messenger - God has cursed them in this world and in the hereafter, and has prepared for them a humiliating punishment.”

Nazareth is where Jesus grew up. No death threats against the pontiff have been reported, but security forces are expected to be on maximum alert.

If the Muslims are dour, not all Jews are smiling either. There is resentment in Israel at Benedicts rescinding in January of the excommunication of a British priest who denied the Holocaust. Following expressions of outrage from Jewish leaders, the Vatican obliged the priest to acknowledge the Holocaust.

There is also displeasure at Benedicts support of canonization for Pope Pius XII who served as pontiff during World War II. Researchers accuse Pius of failing to use his moral position to try to save the lives of Jews. Vatican officials claim that he did so quietly.

A photograph of Pius is displayed in a room at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust research center in Jerusalem, with a caption stating that he did not attempt to save Jews even after news of the extermination camps reached the Vatican. Yad Vashem will be a major stop for Benedict, but Catholic sources said he will not visit the room where the photograph and caption are exhibited.

Yad Vashem has long been pressing the Vatican to make available its documents regarding the Holocaust and Pius actions at the time. The centers chairman, Avner Shalev, is expected to raise the issue again with Vatican officials during the visit.

“I was pleased to learn,” he said recently, “that the pope has directed the cataloguing of the Vatican archives related to the Holocaust so that the archives can be opened up as soon as possible to researchers.”

On a more mundane level, the papal entourage will also be asked to deal with the Israeli authorities on tax and legal issues regarding church properties in the country.

At the personal level, John Pauls 2000 visit may prove a hard act for Benedict to follow.

“Its unfair,” said Israeli political scientist Shlomo Avineri, “but John Pauls warmth will be compared to the theological coldness of Benedict. The fact that [the German-born pope] was in the Hitler Youth, though involuntarily, will make everyone look at every move and turn of phrase.”

Benedict also will visit Bethlehem and an Arab refugee camp in the West Bank. He will hold open-air Masses and meet with Muslim and Jewish political and religious leaders.

Abraham Rabinovich in Jerusalem contributed to this report.