And they spontaneously repeated the gesture again when he left half an hour later.
Diplomats from 21 Islamic
countries and Muslim leaders from
“This meeting was a brilliant idea
of Vatican diplomacy,” Ambassador Bambang Prayitno of
Other representatives called it an invaluable initiative in helping both religions to dialogue.
“He’s helped to smooth away the
bad feelings that some Muslims had felt in their hearts,” said
During a 10-minute address in French, the Holy Father reaffirmed “all the esteem and the profound respect” he has for Muslim believers. He cited the Second Vatican Council declaration Nostra Aetate (The Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions), which states the Church’s “appreciation” for Muslims who “worship the one God.”
Benedict emphasized his wish “to continue establishing bridges of friendship,” but also used the occasion to explain how to make those bridges more real, lasting and fruitful.
“In a world marked by relativism and too often excluding the transcendence and universality of reason, we are in great need of an authentic dialogue,” the Pope said. “Christians and Muslims must work together, as indeed they already do in many common undertakings, in order to guard against all forms of intolerance and to oppose all manifestations of violence.”
Drawing again on Nostra Aetate, he pointed to social justice, moral values and peace and freedom as themes that followers of both faiths could maintain and promote together.
Benedict also took the opportunity to underscore the need for reciprocity in religious freedom, by referring to a speech by Pope John Paul II.
“Respect and dialogue require reciprocity in all spheres, especially in that which concerns basic freedoms, more particularly religious freedom. They favor peace and agreement between peoples,” he said, quoting his predecessor.
The Pope ended his comments by emphasizing the benefits of Christian-Muslim collaboration.
“I pray with my whole heart that the merciful God will guide our steps along the paths of an ever more authentic mutual understanding,” he said
Accompanied by Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture and Interreligious Dialogue, the Holy Father then greeted each of the 40 delegates.
Increasingly, Vatican officials
and some Muslim leaders are seeing Benedict’s
Many of the world’s Muslims paid close attention to the Sept. 25 meeting with Muslim diplomats, which was broadcast live on Al Jazeera, the Arab television network. The Holy See also took the unusual step of immediately translating the Pope’s words in Arabic.
“His message went far, throughout the Arab and Islamic world,” Al-Ibrahim said. “All the Arab media, including Al Jazeera, have reported this in a very positive way and as far as I’m aware there’s been no negative reaction.”
Although the Pope has expressed his regret on several occasions for the offense caused by his remarks, some Muslims remain angry.
Al Jazeera reported Sept. 27 that worshippers in a mosque in Cairo angrily chanted “Down With the Pope, Down With the Vatican” after an imam belonging to the extremist Muslim Brotherhood claimed the Holy Father was part of a U.S.-Vatican crusade against Islam.
As the Register went to press, there were also rumors that al Qaeda was producing a video denouncing Benedict.
Ambassador Al-Ibrahim noted that some Muslims will never be satisfied and will try to feed on any negative sentiment. Such reactions, he said, “are also negative for us.”
Meanwhile, the Holy See has
continued its efforts to communicate the content of Benedict’s
Some of the Muslim ambassadors who met with the Pope suggested intercultural rather than interreligious dialogue might be the better approach.
Benedict has already moved in that
direction by integrating the
Speaking to the Register Sept. 27, Albert Yelda,
“The discussion should not be about religion but how to live peacefully, side by side,” Yelda said.
The Iraqi ambassador also proposed a worldwide 24-hour media channel that promotes peace initiatives and peaceful co-existence.
“We Muslims and Christians are always saying we are religions of peace — well in that case, let’s show it,” he said. “There are too many channels spreading hatred.”