Pope visits mosque, calls for interfaith dialogue

On Sunday Pope Benedict appealed for Christians to build bridges with other religions and urged them to "bear witness to a respect for women".

After his early morning visit to Mount Nebo, on Saturday Pope Benedict laid the foundation stone of a new Catholic run university which will be open to both Muslims and Christians.

In a keynote address to Muslim leaders in Amman's huge Al-Hussein Mosque Pope Benedict expressed concern at the "ideological manipulation of religion" and urged Muslims and Christians to unite as "worshippers of God".

He said: "Certainly, the contradiction of tensions and divisions between the followers of different religious traditions, sadly, cannot be denied, however, is it not also the case that often it is the ideological manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends, that is the real catalyst for tension and division, and at times even violence in society?"

Some Muslim clerics expressed disappointment that Pope Benedict had made no new apology for the 2006 Regensburg address in which he quoted a medieval Christian emperor who criticised some teachings of the Prophet Mohammed as "evil and inhuman."

But Prince Ghazi bin Mohammed, Jordanian King Abdullah II's advisor on religious affairs who hosted the pontiff during his visit to the mosque, was more conciliatory. He said: "I would like to thank you for expressing regret over the lecture in 2006, which hurt the feelings of Muslims."

On Sunday, the Pope celebrated Mass in a sports stadium in Amman, attended by around 30,000 worshippers from the dwindling Christian churches of the Middle East.

During his homily he urged them to try to remain in the region. He said: "The strong Christian families of these lands are a great legacy handed down from earlier generations. May the courage of Christ our shepherd inspire and sustain you in your efforts.... to maintain the Church's presence in the changing social fabric of these ancient lands."

Christians make up less than three percent of Jordan's population, which has been swelled by up to a million refugees from the war in Iraq to between six and seven million in recent years.

Among the refugees are believed to be 40,000 of Iraq's Christian population, mainly Chaldean Catholics.

Other Christian leaders present included Greek Othodox, Melkites, Egyptian Copts, and Maronites, as well as Catholic groups who arrived by the bus load from across Syria and Lebanon and well as Jordan itself.

The Pope appealed to them to "build bridges" with other religions and cultures, but he also appeared to continue a theme of attacking extremism when he said they had a special responsibility to bear witness to "respect for women".

Source: VIS

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