Pope Tackles Sensitive Topic of Jihad

In Munich on Tuesday, Pope Benedict addressed the controversial subject of Islam and violence. In a lecture at the University of Regensburg, where he used to teach, he touched on the concept of Holy War and Jihad.

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The leader of the world's Catholics has offered his view of Islam and violence. Pope Benedict once taught theology in Germany at the University of Regensburg and it was during a visit there that he gave a lecture on the concept of holy war and Jihad.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Munich.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Ever the scholar theologian, the 79-year-old Pope began his intellectually challenging lecture by referring to a dialogue in 1391, between a Byzantine emperor and an erudite Persian on Christianity and Islam.

During the Muslim siege of Constantinople, the Christian Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos told the Persian that Mohammed brought only evil and inhuman things, such as his command to spread his faith by the sword.

Quoting the emperor on the subject of Jihad, or holy war, Benedict said there is no compulsion in religion.

Mr. POPE BENEDICT: (Through translator) Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. God is not pleased by blood. And not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature.

POGGIOLI: The pope continued his quotation: whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly without violence and threats. On this premise, he urged Muslims to join in dialogue.

The pope's remarks are likely to upset many Muslims. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said later, that Benedict was only trying to give an example and not condemn all of Islam as violent.

In his lecture, Benedict also touched on one of his favorite themes, one he has focused on during his trip to his homeland: the danger of excessive dependence on scientific reason in secularized Western societies.

On Sunday, in his sermon, Benedict had stressed that peoples of the third world are frightened by the West's form of rationality, which totally excludes God from man's vision.

Today, he said, that while we rejoice in the possibilities that science and technology have opened for humanity, we also see the dangers arising from them and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them.

Mr. BENEDICT: (Through translator) We will succeed in doing so, only if reason and faith come together in a new way. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures, is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.

(Soundbite of music)

POGGIOLI: Benedict ended his day with an ecumenical celebration of vespers in Regensburg cathedral with Orthodox and Protestants. German Protestants have urged greater ecumenical cooperation oppressing issue for many mixed catholic Protestant couples. Benedict had made working for Christian unity a priority, but Germany's Protestants have complained that so far he has ignored them and only reached out to Orthodox churches.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Munich.

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