Vatican Says al-Qaida Criticism Of Pope Shows Fear Of Dialogue

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Vatican said recent criticism of Pope Benedict XVI by an al-Qaida leader reflected extremist fears of interreligious dialogue.

Al-Qaida’s deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, said in a videotape that the pope had offended Muslims and that Saudi Arabian King Abdullah Aziz should not have met with the pontiff in November. It was the first meeting between a pope and a reigning Saudi king.

Asked about al-Zawahri’s comments, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said Dec. 18 that the papal meeting with the Saudi Arabian leader and the ongoing dialogue between the Vatican and Muslim scholars “is a positive fact for the entire Muslim world.”

“The fact that these voices that explicitly want to dialogue and work for peace have a growing importance in Islam is evidently something that worries those who don’t want dialogue,” the Vatican spokesman said.

Father Lombardi said al-Zawahri’s negative reference to Pope Benedict “is not surprising, nor does it particularly worry us.” He said he thought the remarks should not be given great weight.

In October, 138 Muslim experts wrote a letter to the pope asking for new dialogue efforts based on shared values. In response, the pope invited a varied group of Muslim scholars to meet with him and Vatican experts sometime next year.