09/17/2006, 00.00
VATICAN – ISLAM
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Pope "truly sorry" for Muslim reactions but did not offend

Benedict XVI goes back over the interpretation given to his Regensburg speech to explain that he did not criticise the Islamic religion and naturally does not apologise.

Castel Gandolfo (AsiaNews) – The Pope said he was "truly sorry" for the reactions in the Muslim world to a speech he gave in Regensburg University that was not meant to cause offence to Muslim believers.

As expected, Benedict XVI spoke before the Angelus about the reactions in the Muslim world and made it clear that the text that attacked Muhammad, which he quoted, did not express in any way his personal opinion, something that should have already been clear given the context. He urged everyone to read the statement made yesterday by Card Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of state, but did not apologise. Offering any apologies as Muslim governments and many Muslims demanded would be an admission of guilt bolstering claims of those who attacked him, whereas Benedict XVI and the Vatican insist that the speech was simply misunderstood and that it did not contain any attack against Islam.

The Pope, who said that he did not share the views he quoted in what was a real university-like lecture, has probably gone as far he will go to placate Muslim anger, hoping that his latest remarks might help "appease hearts".

Some three thousand people welcomed the Holy Father and warmly received him despite the rain, to which the Pope jokingly referred: "Water," he said, "is a sign of the Holy Spirit," but "let us hope the weather improves by Wednesday."

Benedict XVI mentioned his recent trip to Bavaria and said he would talk more about it in next Wednesday's general audience.

"The Pastoral Visit which I recently made to Bavaria was a deep spiritual experience, bringing together personal memories linked to places well known to me and pastoral initiatives towards an effective proclamation of the Gospel for today. I thank God for the interior joy which he made possible, and I am also grateful to all those who worked hard for the success of this pastoral visit. As is the custom, I will speak more of this during next Wednesday's general audience."

"At this time, I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims. These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought. Yesterday, the Cardinal Secretary of State published a statement in this regard in which he explained the true meaning of my words. I hope that this serves to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect."

Several times the Pope was interrupted by the warm applause of those present who seemed to want to show him special closeness at a time when he is attacked and criticised in the Muslim world but also by other groups whose views are echoed in a recent article in The New York Times.

In yesterday's statement, to which the Pope referred, Cardinal Bertone made three points.

"The position of the Pope concerning Islam is unequivocally that expressed by the conciliar document Nostra Aetate: The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, Who has spoken to men." The "Pope's option in favour of inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue is equally unequivocal. In his meeting with representatives of Muslim communities in Cologne, Germany, on 20 August 2005, he said that such dialogue between Christians and Muslims "cannot be reduced to an optional extra," adding: The lessons of the past must help us to avoid repeating the same mistakes. We must seek paths of reconciliation and learn to live with respect for each other's identity." Finally, as "for the opinion of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus which he quoted during his Regensburg talk, the Holy Father did not mean, nor does he mean, to make that opinion his own in any way. He simply used it as a means to undertake—in an academic context, and as is evident from a complete and attentive reading of the text—certain reflections on the theme of the relationship between religion and violence in general, and to conclude with a clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation for violence, from whatever side it may come."

The statement also said that it is worth recalling what Benedict XVI himself recently said in his commemorative message for the 20th anniversary of the Inter-faith Meeting of Prayer for Peace, an initiative launched by his predecessor John Paul II at Assisi in October 1986: ". . . demonstrations of violence cannot be attributed to religion as such but to the cultural limitations with which it is lived and develops in time. . . . In fact, attestations of the close bond that exists between the relationship with God and the ethics of love are recorded in all great religious traditions". (FP)

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