Philippines: Bishop expresses sympathy with outraged Muslims

 Catholic Bishop Teodoro Bacani expressed sympathy for Muslims who were outraged by Pope Benedict XVI's use of quotations critical of Islam, saying recent special circumstances that put them under scrutiny had made them sensitive. Speaking on Sunday Bacani said care and understanding should be taken in making statements so as not to offend followers of Islam. He also said he hoped that Muslims would not resort to violence as a response to perceived offences. The prelate said it was not Pope Benedict's intention to insult Muslims by quoting a 14th-century Byzantine emperor's unflattering remarks about Islam and that the Pontiff had explained that he did not share the view and had apologized for the outcry they provoked. Bacani, however, added that any backlash would have been prevented had the Pontiff followed the "unfortunate quotation" from the emperor with an immediate disclaimer that he was not of the same opinion. He said he was surprised that nobody had advised the Pope to do so. "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached," the Pope quoted Manuel II Paleologus as saying. The quote drew criticism from Islamic communities, and the Pope subsequently issued an apology. Speaking over the Church-run Radio Veritas, Bacani said Islam also taught good values, which was why people should be more understanding and careful about what they say about Muslims. He pointed out, however, that Muslims nowadays were viewed with suspicion following recent terror incidents, like the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, or the kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf Group in Mindanao. "At present, we are in a sensitive situation. The special circumstances at this time are many Muslims feel that they are under suspicion, that they are viewed as bad people or terrorists," Bacani said. The bishop said he saw this for himself and narrated how, when he was coming home from the United States, he saw a Middle Eastern or Indian-looking man stopped, questioned and his passport scrutinized at the tube leading to the airplane, while he was not subjected to a similar treatment. "I didn't look any kinder than that man, but they let me pass," he said. He said it was this kind of situation that led Muslims to be sensitive, and made their reactions to perceived offences understandable. Bacani also said the entire Muslim population should not be judged by the actions of Islamic extremists. He said that violent groups were not just present among the followers of Islam but also among Christians as well. He said that the past two world wars were fought by Christian nations. "Even if we debate about issues, it should remain verbal and at the end, we should strive to understand one another," he said. Human beings, even men of the cloth like popes, cardinals or bishops, make mistakes, too, said Bacani. He said that the best course of action to take was to seek forgiveness, which was what Pope Benedict XVI did, not because he said something wrong, but because there was a lack of explanation in his speech. "As they say, to err is human, to forgive divine. Let's hope that our faith in God and that of Muslims would prevail. All of these would help us work toward understanding each other," he said.

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