Relaymedia

Pope Invites Dialogue with Muslims

Pope Benedict XVI said Tuesday that Islamic holy war was against God's nature and invited Muslims to join in a peaceful cultural dialogue.
( [email protected] ) Sep 19, 2006 12:00 PM EDT

REGENSBURG, Germany (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI said Tuesday that Islamic holy war was against God's nature and invited Muslims to join in a peaceful cultural dialogue.

In a speech at Regensburg University, Benedict made an unusual reference to jihad, or holy war - a concept used by today's Islamic extremists to justify suicide bombings and other attacks. Benedict's address was about faith and reason, and how they cannot be separated and are essential for "that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today."

Citing historic Christian commentary on holy war and forced conversion, the 79-year-old pontiff quoted from a 14th-century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologos. "The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war," the pope said. "He said, I quote, 'Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."'

Clearly aware of the sensitivity of the issue, Benedict added, "I quote," twice before pronouncing the phrases on Islam and described them as "brusque," while neither explicitly agreeing with nor repudiating them.

"The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable," Benedict said. "Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul," the pope said, issuing an open invitation to dialogue among cultures.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pope was not giving an interpretation of Islam as "something violent" although he said the religion contains both violent and nonviolent strains.

Benedict did not touch directly on the current controversy over Islamic extremism, although it is an issue he follows with concern. Last year in Cologne, Germany, he urged Islamic leaders to take responsibility for their communities and teach their young to abhor violence. Last week, he told a gathering of Christian, Muslim and Jewish representatives in Italy that no one can "use the motive of religious difference as a reason or pretext for bellicose behavior toward other human beings."

Benedict will make his first visit to a Muslim country in November, when he is scheduled to travel to Turkey. Gerlinde Axmann, a 40-year-old social worker, watched Tuesday's speech on one of the large screens set up in a square near the cathedral.

"That was a very important start to dialogue with Muslims amid the terrorist threat," she said, calling Benedict's appeal to reason "a building block toward finding a way to argue with each other without using weapons."

"I think it's very important for him to bring these things up in society," she said. "Muslims aren't going to take us seriously until we become conscious of our own values. For example, they take the pope much more seriously than others in the West."

Benedict earlier celebrated Mass for some 230,000 people, the second-largest crowd of his six-day homecoming tour, which ends Thursday. From atop the altar platform, the pope looked over a throng dotted with blue-and-white Bavarian flags and the yellow-and-white Vatican banners.

In discussing faith and reason, Benedict in his sermon at Mass scoffed at the idea of a "mathematically ordered cosmos" without any hand of God. He said this would mean "nothing more than a chance result of evolution. We believe in God. This is a fundamental decision on our part."

Eva Renz dozed in the sun as she waited for the pope, having been on the road since 3 a.m. with her husband and six children.

"His presence is important because he is a representative of Christ," she said. "I brought all the children because it's important for them to see this huge crowd and all the joy."

Some people turned out in spite of disagreeing with Benedict's conservative stands such as his opposition to ordaining women and married men. Machine shop worker Kurt Kellner, 40, came to the Mass but was skeptical about whether Benedict would win him over.

"I know his positions, they're not entirely my opinions. I want to take part in the event," he said, calling Benedict "relatively good" as pope. "He knows how to move people," he said.

In his speech at the university, where he once taught theology, Benedict stressed that "a reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering a dialogue of cultures."

But he assured that his critique of modern reason "has nothing to do with putting the clock back." "The positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly," he said.