Pope Benedict Sends Message to Muslims

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The Vatican presents Pope Benedict's message to Muslims for the end of Ramadan. The message was rewritten to address the tensions triggered by the Pope's lecture in Germany. That lecture included a quote on Islam and violence that led to widespread outrage in the Muslim world.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris. The Vatican issued its annual greeting to Muslims at the end of Ramadan today. The message is usually a routine affair, but it had special significance this year thanks to Muslim protests over Pope Benedict's recent remarks on Islam and violence. Today's statement urged Muslims to join Catholics in working to defeat terrorism, saying the credibility of both Christianity and Islam are at stake. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: The annual message comes at a time of tension between the two religions, after Benedict's speech last month at Regensburg University in Germany, portions of which were seen as offensive by many in the Islamic world. For the first time, the heads of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue held a press conference to present the Ramadan message to the media. Council Secretary Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata quoted from it directly.

Archbishop PIER LUIGI CELATA (Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue): (Through translator) The particular circus dances that we have recently experienced together demonstrate clearly that however arduous the path of authentic dialogue may be at times, it is more necessary than ever.

POGGIOLI: The message denounces the painful scourge of violence and terrorism. As Christian believers, it says, are we not the first to be called to offer our specific contribution to resolve this serious situation and these complex problems? And it adds, without a doubt, the credibility of our religions and also the credibility of our religious leaders and all believers is at stake.

Following the uproar over his speech in Germany, Benedict has expressed regret several times, insisting he had been misunderstood. He also held an extraordinary meeting with ambassadors of Islamic countries to the Holy See and Muslim representatives in Italy. He will have another opportunity to improve Catholic-Muslim relations when he visits Turkey next month. Archbishop Celata, a former Vatican envoy to Ankara, recently traveled to Turkey. He acknowledged that the Regensburg speech caused apprehension in Turkey and revived debate over remarks Ratzinger had made before becoming pope that Turkey should not become a part of the European Union.

Archbishop CELATA: But now the misunderstanding, the incomprehension, has been cleared up. We must move forward more courageously. This is absolutely urgent.

POGGIOLI: And the archbishop added that Turkey is ready to accord the pope the hospitality that is typical of Turkey and the Muslim world. Vatican officials are playing down concerns over the pope's security during the four-day visit, but there is some worry that the dispute over the pope's speech may overshadow the entire trip, and there is also a diplomatic problem with the Turks. One of the prime goals of this papacy is to overcome tensions with orthodox Christians, and Benedict sees his encounter in Istanbul with ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual head of the world's orthodox, as the main purpose of what the Vatican describes as a pastoral visit. The Turkish government, on the other hand, has invited the pope to visit as a head of state and not as a religious leader, a diplomatic dispute that still has to be resolved.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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