Pope Benedict and Prominent Atheist Agree

KANSAS CITY STAR, Oct. 22 — A late Italian journalist, author and self-described atheist left most of her books and notes to the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome because of her admiration for Pope Benedict XVI, the Star reported.

Oriana Fallaci, who died of breast cancer Sept. 15, 2006 at the age of 77, had described the Holy Father as an ally in her campaign to rally Christians in Europe against what she saw as a Muslim crusade against the West. As she battled cancer last year, she had a private audience with Benedict.

At the time of her death, she was on trial in northern Italy, accused of defaming Islam in her 2004 book, The Strength of Reason. In it, she argued that Europe had sold its soul to what she called an Islamic invasion.

In one of her final interviews, Fallaci told The Wall Street Journal: “I am an atheist, and if an atheist and a pope think the same things, there must be something true.”

Pope Calls for End to Sectarian Violence in Iraq

REUTERS, Oct. 22 — Pope Benedict called on Iraqis and religious and political leaders worldwide on World Mission Sunday to stop the violence between religious factions in Iraq that has cost the lives of innocent Muslims and Christians, Reuters reported.

The Pope used his regular address to send “cordial greetings” to Muslims celebrating the end of their annual Ramadan fast (see story on this page). “In dramatic contrast with this happy atmosphere there comes news from Iraq of the grave situation of insecurity and cruel violence to which many innocent people are exposed just because they are Shiite, Sunni or Christian,” he said.

The U.S.-backed Iraqi government is led by Shiite Muslims who are struggling to rein in Shiite militias battling Sunnis in a sectarian conflict that kills about 100 Iraqis every day.

Since the Pope’s speech, Christians in Iraq fear they could become the targets of more violence.

A recent U.S. government report on religious freedom in Iraq estimated the number of Christians has shrunk to about 1 million from 1.4 million in 1987. Most are Chaldean Catholics.

Capuchins Help Muslims Rebuild Mosque

AKI, Oct. 16 — Capuchin priests in the northern Italian port city of Genoa are helping the local Muslim community build a mosque which will stand right beside their convent, reported the international news agency.

The Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported that the Capuchins will give land to the Muslims close to their convent in exchange for a building nearby owned by the Islamic community.

As part of the peculiar “trade” agreement, the friars will reportedly partly build the new mosque, which according to Corriere will become Italy’s third largest.

The mosque will be paid for by Waqf al-Islami, a funding body of Italy’s largest Muslim group, the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy. The group has reportedly invested 2 million euros in the past few years to buy 13 mosques across Italy.