Christians and Muslims must overcome their misunderstandings, Pope Benedict XVI told Muslim clergy and scholars Thursday as he pressed for greater freedom of worship for non-Muslims in the Islamic world.
His meeting in the Apostolic Palace with a delegation of scholars and other Muslim representatives capped a three-day conference in Rome involving Catholic clergy and professors and Islamic experts. Benedict told participants he had followed the progress of the talks closely.
The pope's baptism of a prominent Egyptian-born Muslim last Easter in St. Peter's Basilica upset some in the Muslim world. Benedict also angered Muslims with comments linking Islam to violence in a speech in 2006.
“Dear friends, let us unite our efforts, animated by good will, in order to overcome all misunderstanding and disagreements,” the pope said to the delegates. “Let us resolve to overcome past prejudices and to correct the often distorted images of the other, which even today can create difficulties in our relations.”
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Benedict has expressed regret for any offense caused by his 2006 remarks.
Beyond repairing strained relations, the Vatican views the talks between both sides as an opportunity to push for better treatment of Christians in parts of the Muslim world.
In Saudi Arabia, non-Muslims cannot worship in public, Christian symbols like crosses cannot be openly displayed and Muslims who convert face death. The Vatican has also spoken out about the plight of Christians in Iraq, where churches have been attacked, clergy kidnapped and many faithful forced to flee.
Benedict expressed hope that fundamental rights will be “protected for all people everywhere.”
“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,” the pope said.
The discussions made important strides, according to Abdal Hakim Murad Winter, an Islamic studies lecturer at Cambridge University.
“Both sides agreed to respect the sanctity” of each other's beliefs and to “not tolerate any mockery,” Winter told journalists.