Vatican joins worldwide protest against 'Koran burning day'

Faith leaders and politicians around the world are protesting about plans by the pastor of a small American church to burn copies of the Koran on the aniversary of 11 September. In a statement today, the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue described its "great concern" at the news.

The deplorable acts of violence of 11 September "in fact, cannot be counteracted by an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community," the statement said.

"Each religion, with its respective sacred books, places of worship and symbols, has the right to respect and protection. We are speaking about the respect to be accorded the dignity of the person who is an adherent of that religion and his/her free choice in religious matters.

"The reflection which necessarily should be fostered on the occasion of the remembrance of 11 September would be, first of all, to offer our deep sentiments of solidarity with those who were struck by these horrendous terrorist attacks. To this feeling of solidarity we join our prayers for them and their loved ones who lost their lives.

"Each religious leader and believer is also called to renew the firm condemnation of all forms of violence, in particular those committed in the name of religion. Pope John Paul II affirmed: 'Recourse to violence in the name of religious belief is a perversion of the very teachings of the major religions' (address to the new ambassador of Pakistan, 16 December 1999).

"His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI similarly expressed, 'violence as a response to offences can never be justified, for this type of response is incompatible with the sacred principles of religion' (address of His Holiness Benedict XVI, to the new ambassador of Morocco, 6 February 2006)".

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai, India, and president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India and several Christian and Muslim religious leaders said in a joint statement that the proposed act was "contrary to the teaching of Jesus Christ."

The cardinal said: "I condemn this completely insensitive threat that is disrespectful to the Holy Quran, on behalf of the Catholic Church".

Bishop Johannes Pujasumarta of Bandung, Indonesia, secretary general of the Indonesian bishops' conference, told Fides: "We have expressed our disagreement and have launched an appeal to have it cancelled.

"We will continue to pray that nothing unpleasant occurs in Indonesia and throughout the world as a result of this irresponsible act".

Many US leaders have joined the Church leaders in condemning the initiative.  General David Petraeus, commander of the troops in Afghanistan, said the act could endanger the soldiers in Muslim countries. Describing the plan as a "disrespectful, disgraceful act," Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has banned the church from holding a fire and appealed for the media not to give the event publicity if it goes ahead.

But Larry Jones who leads the Dove World Outreach Centre in Gainesville, Florida, with a congregation of less than 50 people,  says he intends to carry out the plan "unless God tells me otherwise."

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