CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, (AP) -A meeting with Muslim diplomats Monday was Pope Benedict XVI’s latest effort to mend relations after remarks about Islam and violence that ignited the Vatican’s most serious international crisis in decades.
Benedict’s spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the meeting at the pope’s summer residence was “certainly a sign that dialogue is returning to normal after moments of … misunderstanding.”
Vatican Radio said that it would cover the meeting live, and the speeches were scheduled to be shown to journalists on closed-circuit Vatican TV.
Benedict infuriated many Muslims with his Sept. 12 speech at Regensburg University, where he once taught theology, that quoted the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as “evil and inhuman,” particularly “his command to spread by the sword the faith.”
Muslims around the world protested the remarks.
Benedict since has said that they were taken out of context, and he regretted that Muslims were offended.
Among the countries expected to send representatives to Monday’s meeting were Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Indonesia and Turkey.
Christian-Muslim tensions in Indonesia were raised last week by the execution of three Catholic militants. Benedict had appealed last month for the men’s lives to be spared.
Benedict has said he hopes to go in November to predominantly Muslim but officially secular Turkey, whose officials were among the first to vigorously protest the Regensburg remarks.
Last week, the Holy See’s ambassadors to Muslim countries met with officials to assure them that the pope respects Islam and to urge a complete reading of the speech, which was an exploration of the relationship between faith and reason.
Lombardi said Muslim countries’ accepting the pope’s invitation to Monday’s meeting reflected a “desire to work together for the great ideals, the great objectives of peace, justice.”
A top aide of Poupard’s, Monsignor Felix Anthony Machado, told Vatican Radio on Sunday that dialogue must be practiced when “times are favorable.”
Such dialogue “is not an ambulance to call in times of crisis,” Machado said, but rather, “the only hope in this world, where people get emotionally excited and take the path of violence.”
On Sunday, Benedict praised an Italian nun who was shot to death on Sept. 17 in Mogadishu, Somalia in an attack that might have been linked to the worldwide anger over the Regensburg speech. Benedict noted that the nun forgave her attackers as she lay dying, showing “the victory of love over hate and evil.”