VATICAN CITY, (Reuters) – Pope Benedict will meet Muslim ambassadors to the Vatican and Italian Islamic leaders on Monday to try to calm lingering anger over his use of a medieval text saying their religion was spread by violence.
“The purpose of this meeting is to relaunch dialogue with the Islamic world,” said a senior Vatican official on Friday, after invitations were sent for the meeting on Monday at 1000 GMT at the Pope’s summer palace in Castelgandolfo, outside Rome.
Islamic diplomats accredited to the Holy See hoped it would help restore trust between the Roman Catholic Church and Muslims who were offended by the Pope’s speech last week during a trip to his native Germany.
“We welcome it and are definitely going to participate,” said Iran’s deputy ambassador to the Holy See, Ahmad Faihma.
“This is a positive signal from the Vatican. I know that this will improve relations with the Islamic world,” the Iranian diplomat told Reuters.
“This meeting will be very important, especially in these days, to try to stop every action that is not good,” said Fathi Abuabed, head of international relations at the Arab League’s Vatican mission.
The leader of more than one billion Roman Catholics has expressed regret three times in the past week for the reaction caused by his speech quoting 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, who spoke of the Prophet Mohammad’s “command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”.
But he has stopped short of the unequivocal apology demanded by many Muslims. Al Qaeda groups have declared war on the Church, Iraqi rotesters have burnt the Pope’s effigy and some Turkish religious officials petitioned for his arrest.
The Pope said at his Wednesday audience that his real intention had been to “explain that religion and violence do not go together but religion and reason do”.
Western politicians, including U.S. President George W. Bush, and Christian church leaders have tried to calm the crisis by ensuring Muslims that the Pope was sincere when he expressed regret at the offence caused.
But many Islamic organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt want the Pope to go further and apologise for using the quote and explain in detail what his views on Islam are.
Even sympathetic observers say the Pope was clumsy to use such an inflammatory quote and behaved more like the theology professor he used to be than the head of a church whose every word in public is recorded and reported by the world media.
Italy and the Vatican’s own security service have tightened security around the Pope because of the sometimes violent reaction to his speech.
In Turkey, Mehmet Ali Agca, who tried to kill Pope John Paul II in 1981, has warned Benedict not to make a planned visit to the country in November, saying his life would be in danger.
One of the few signs that the crisis may have peaked came from Muslim Iran’s hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who told U.S. television this week that since the Pope had expressed his regrets “there is no problem”.