AMMAN, Jordan (AP) – Pope Benedict XVI on Friday headed for Jordan, where he will begin his first Middle East visit as a self-proclaimed pilgrim of peace but could face criticism from Muslims still upset over past comments he made about the Prophet Muhammad.
Jordan’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood has demanded Benedict apologize ahead of his visit for his September 2006 speech in which he quoted a Medieval text that characterized some of Muhammad’s teachings as “evil and inhuman,” particularly “his command to spread by the sword the faith.”
The pope has already said he was “deeply sorry” over the reaction to his speech and that the passage he quoted did not reflect his own opinion. But he has not issued a public apology as demanded by the Brotherhood, setting the stage for potential conflict with Jordan’s largest opposition group when he arrives in Amman on Friday.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the Vatican has made all possible clarifications, telling Associated Press Television News that “we cannot continue until the end of the world to repeat the same clarifications.”
The pope set off for Jordan from Rome on Friday and is also scheduled to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories during his weeklong Middle East tour. Benedict’s three-day stay in Jordan is his first visit to an Arab country as pope.
During his time in Jordan, Benedict is scheduled to meet with Muslim religious leaders at Amman’s largest mosque, his second visit to a Muslim place of worship since becoming pope in 2005. He prayed in Istanbul’s famed Blue Mosque, a gesture that helped calm the outcry over his remarks. He is also expected to meet with King Abdullah and Queen Rania, as well as Iraqi Christians driven from their homeland by violence.