The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pope smokes peace pipe with Muslims

Castelgandolfo, Italy, Sept. 25 (Reuters): Pope Benedict today assured Muslims that he respected them and was committed to dialogue, in an unprecedented encounter to defuse anger at his use of quotes saying their faith was spread by the sword.

In a speech to diplomatic envoys from some 20 Muslim countries plus the leaders of Italy’s own Muslim community at his summer residence south of Rome, the Pope said both Christians and Muslims had to reject violence.

Several of the envoys who attended said they considered the meeting had gone a long way to help end the controversy that began two weeks ago with a speech by the Pope at a university in Germany.

“I think this meeting has resolved many problems... we can close this controversy,” said Khalil Altoubat, a member of the Italian Muslim community’s liaison group with the government.

The Pope did not specifically mention the quote that angered Muslims, saying the circumstances that made the meeting necessary “are well known”.

“Christians and Muslims must learn to work together... in order to guard against all forms of intolerance and to oppose all manifestations of violence,” the 79-year-old Pope said.

It was the fourth time he has tried to make amends, without apologising directly.

The Pope is facing the toughest international crisis since his election in April 2005, and the severity has raised doubts about a planned trip to Turkey in November.

Mario Scialoja, an adviser to the Italian wing of the World Muslim League, said he thought it was a “very good and warm speech”.

“He recalled the differences but expressed his willingness to continue in a cordial and fruitful dialogue, said Scialoja, who added that he “had not been expecting another apology”.

The atmosphere at the 30-minute meeting, which was broadcast live on Vatican television and radio, appeared cordial. After delivering his speech the Pope greeted each of the envoys personally and chatted with them briefly.

The leader of more than one billion Catholics has expressed regret at the response to his quoting 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, who said the Prophet Mohammad commanded “to spread by the sword the faith he preached”.

The Pope said Christians and Muslims had to learn from the past and work for a better future.

“I sincerely pray that the relations of trust which have developed between Christians and Muslims over several years, will not only continue, but will develop further in a spirit of sincere and respectful dialogue ...,” he said.

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