Vatican, Muslims Plan for Talks with Pope

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Muslim representatives and Vatican officials meet Tuesday for talks that will hopefully lead to an unprecedented Catholic-Islamic meeting later this year focusing on terrorism. The meetings are an attempt to improve relations after a 2006 speech by Pope Benedict XVI in which he quoted an ancient emperor's criticism of Islam.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Muslim representatives are at the Vatican today, talking with Catholic officials. They're hoping to set the agenda for an unprecedented meeting later this year between Pope Benedict and Islamic leaders.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: The preparatory talks will be conducted by five representatives on each side who will work out details of a larger meeting that will include Pope Benedict XVI.

Yahya Sergio Yahe Pallavicini, vice president of the Italian Islamic Religious Community, told reporters, we have to bring the dialogue up to date following the great success of the pontificate of John Paul II.

Catholic-Muslim relation soured after a speech Pope Benedict delivered in Regensburg, Germany, in 2006, in which he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor's criticism of Islam. The speech provoked Muslim fury and violent protest in much of the Islamic world.

Benedict extended an olive branch by visiting Istanbul's Blue Mosque and praying with an imam in the direction of Mecca. But he stopped short of a clear apology as sought by Muslims.

After the fallout from the speech, 138 Muslim scholars wrote a letter to the pope and other Christian leaders in which they said world peace depended on the two faith communities being at peace with one another. They wrote: Our common future is at stake. The survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake.

Pallavicini, the Italian Muslim representative to the preparatory talks, said terrorism is one thing that has to be discussed. All religious leaders must renew a message of peace in their faith. Then, it will be easier to isolate extremists and avoid the wrong use of religion. We must try, together with the pope, he added, to get on a path of dialogue on issues confronting humanity today.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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