Pope addresses interfaith forum



Pope Benedict XVI stressed today the importance of religious freedom in an address to the Vatican's first Catholic-Islam forum. "Political and religious leaders have the duty of ensuring ... each individual's freedom of conscience and freedom of religion," Pope Benedict said at the end of the three-day forum. "My hope ... is that these fundamental human rights will be protected for all people everywhere," he told the Muslim and Catholic dignitaries from around the world. The Vatican seminar started with the Common Word, an open letter to Pope Benedict in 2006, a month after he made a controversial speech in Regensburg, linking Islam to violence as he quoted from a medieval passage, that offended many Muslim leaders. The forum "represents one more step along the way towards greater understanding between Muslims and Christians," the pontiff said. Speaking for the Muslim delegation, Seyyed Hossein Nasr of Iran, a professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University in Washington, said earlier that both Christians and Muslims "believe in religious freedom". However, he said: "We Muslims do not allow an aggressive proselytising in our midst that would destroy our faith in the name of freedom, any more than would Christians if they were in our situation." Pope Benedict said: "This gathering is a clear sign of our mutual esteem and our desire to listen respectfully to one another." "The discrimination and violence which even today religious people experience throughout the world, and the often violent persecutions to which they are subject, represent unacceptable and unjustifiable acts, all the more grave and deplorable when they are carried out in the name of God," he said. Mustafa Ceric, the mufti of Bosnia who led the Muslim delegation, noted ahead of Pope Benedict's speech: "My brothers, Bosnian Muslims, suffered genocide" during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. *AFP

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