Pope Expresses 'Deep Respect' for Islam

Pope Benedict XVI said Wednesday that he has 'deep respect' for Islam, but he did not offer an apology demanded by some Muslim leaders offended by the pontiff's remarks in Germany last week.
( [email protected] ) Sep 20, 2006 10:02 AM EDT

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI said Wednesday that he has "deep respect" for Islam, but he did not offer an apology demanded by some Muslim leaders offended by the pontiff's remarks in Germany last week.

The pope acknowledged that his remarks were open to misinterpretation, but insisted he had not intended to endorse a negative view of Islam.

"I hope that in several occasions during the visit ... my deep respect for great religions, in particular for Muslims - who worship the one God and with whom we are engaged in defending and promoting together social justice, moral values, peace and freedom for all men - has emerged clearly," Benedict said during his weekly audience at the Vatican.

The pope said he hoped his words would spark a "positive, even self-critical dialogue both among religions and between modern reason and Christian faith."

At the University of Regensburg last week, Benedict cited the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

"This quote unfortunately lent itself to be misunderstood," the pontiff said Wednesday. "In no way did I wish to make my own the words of the medieval emperor. I wished to explain that not religion and violence, but religion and reason go together."

On Sunday, Benedict said that he was "deeply sorry" about the reactions to his remarks and that they did not reflect his own opinions. But not all in the Islamic world were satisfied by Benedict's statement of regret.

The grand sheik of Cairo's Al-Azhar Mosque, the Sunni Arab world's most powerful institution, demanded that Benedict apologize more clearly.

"The pope has to apologize frankly and justify what he said," Grand Sheik Mohammed Sayed Tantawi told papal and Egyptian Catholic representatives on Tuesday.

Before Wednesday's weekly audience at the Vatican, the pontiff, riding in an open jeep, waved to the crowd in a tightly guarded St. Peter's Square. At the end, the pontiff remained in the piazza to be greeted by some of the faithful.

Security has increased across Italy out of concern that Muslim anger following the pope's remarks could cause Roman Catholic sites to become terrorist targets.

Rome Prefect Achille Serra held a meeting with security forces Wednesday. However, he stressed that "there is no specific threat," according to the ANSA and Apcom news agencies.

Italian forces provide security for the Vatican, along with the Swiss Guard and Vatican police, which are responsible for the pope's personal safety.

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