09/18/2006, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Pope only wants inter-faith harmony, Pakistani bishops say

by Qaiser Felix
Mgr Saldanha, chairman of the Bishops' Conference of Pakistan, calls Benedict XVI's clarification "a positive and courageous step" and hopes that the unfortunate incident would not negatively affect relations between Muslims and Christians.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Benedict XVI's clarification yesterday of what he said at Regensburg University is "a positive and courageous step" and should put an end to the negative reactions in the Muslim world. It shows a "genuine desire on the Pontiff's part for harmony of religions", this according to an official statement released today by Mgr Lawrence J. Saldanha, archbishop of Lahore and chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Pakistan.

In the press release, the prelate writes that the clarification was a "positive and courageous step to undo some of the strong negative reactions in the Muslim world and show his [the Pope's] genuine desire for interfaith harmony among religions."

Pakistan was one of the countries that reacted more harshly to the remarks the Pope made at Regensburg University. Like many others around the world Pakistani Muslims believed that the Pope shared the views expressed by Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos who said that throughout history only evil has come from Islam, remarks the Pope cited in his speech.

In a unanimous vote last Thursday Pakistan's parliament called on the Pope to retract his statement whilst the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Tasnim Aslam, said that it was quite inappropriate for a religious leader like the Pope to make statements that might have the effect of widening the gap between religions.

In yesterday's Angelus, Benedict XVI made it clear that the views he quoted did not represent his way of thinking. As the Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone pointed out, reading the full text of the proclusion (inaugural address) showed that the Pontiff only expressed a "clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation for violence, from whatever side it may come."

"The Pope clearly stated that he did not share the views of the Christian emperor that he cited in his discourse," the prelate said in the statement. "A reading of the full text of 6 pages would confirm that it was a scholarly address about faith and reason and how they are essential for genuine dialogue of cultures and religions."

Finally, Archbishop Saldanha expressed the hope that the longstanding cordial relations between Muslims and Christians in Pakistan would not be affected by this unfortunate incident. "I hope and pray that we will continue to live and work together for the peace and prosperity of Pakistan," he said.

The Holy See's Nunciature in Islamabad also released an official statement in which it made it perfectly clear that "Holy Father's intention was to promote respect towards and dialogue between religions and cultures, including, of course, Islam".

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