VATICAN CITY,(Reuters) – Former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami met Pope Benedict on Friday and said the wounds between Christians and Muslims were still “very deep”, including those caused by a controversial papal speech last September.
Khatami became one of the most prominent Muslim clerics to visit the Vatican since the Pope’s controversial Regensburg speech which angered Muslims by appearing to link Islam and violence. “These wounds are very deep. There are many wounds and they cannot heal that easily,” Khatami told a conference in Rome just before the papal meeting, when asked if the wounds that followed the Pontiff’s speech in his native Germany had been healed. “For sure, a meeting with the Holy Father cannot be enough to heal all these wounds but at least we are making a joint effort in order to start healing these wounds,” Khatami said.
In his September speech, the Pope quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor as saying Islam had only brought evil to the world and that it was spread by the sword, a method that was unreasonable and contrary to God’s nature. He used the quote to launch into a much longer discussion of the key influence of ancient Greek philosophical reasoning on the early Christian faith and invited Muslim scholars to enter into a dialogue about faith and reason with Christians.
The Pope later said he regretted any misunderstanding it caused among Muslims, after protests including attacks on churches in the Middle East and the killing of a nun in Somalia.
The Vatican said Khatami and the Pope met for about 30 minutes and spoke through interpreters about the “dialogue among cultures” to overcome current tensions and promote peace.
In talks that a spokesman called cordial, they also discussed the problems of minority Christians in Iran and the Middle East and encouraged peace efforts such as the conference on Iraq’s future taking place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
At Friday morning’s conference, Khatami, speaking through a translator, said that Christianity and Islam needed to rediscover their common roots as monotheistic religions in order to improve relations. “If Christian and Islamic societies could only rely on love and justice and get back to these founding principles and if together we fought against violence and extremism … then we can lay the foundations to heal any wound,” he said.
The conference on religious dialogue Khatami attended was to have been held in October but was postponed following the fallout in the Muslim world over Benedict’s Regensburg speech.
At the conference before meeting the Pope, Khatami said no one could use God’s name to “instigate war or hate or speak ignorantly of crusades”. He said both religions must enter a “sincere and practical dialogue and commitment to achieve peace and eliminate terrorism and war”.