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Pope calls for Christian unity, condemns violence

Latest update : 2008-07-18

Pope Benedict XVI warned Christian leaders Friday that the push to unite Christian churches was at a "critical juncture" and called on people of all religions to join together against violence.

SYDNEY - Pope Benedict called for all religions to unite
against terrorism and resolve conflicts peacefully on Friday
and heard an Islamic leader urge Christians to overcome
"misconceptions and prejudices" about Muslims.
 

"In a world threatened by sinister and indiscriminate forms
of violence, the unified voice of religious people urges
nations and communities to resolve conflict through peaceful
means and with full regard for human dignity," Benedict told an
meeting with Muslims, Jews and members of other non-Christian
faiths.
 

The pope, in Australia for the Church's World Youth Day,
also said the Catholic Church was open to learn from other
religions, a comment seen in the context of moves to improve
relations with other religions, particularly Islam.
 

"The Church eagerly seeks opportunities to listen to the
spiritual experience of other religions," he said.
 

Catholic-Muslim relations nosedived in 2006 after Benedict
delivered a lecture in Regensburg, Germany, that was taken by
Muslims to imply that Islam was violent and irrational.
 

Muslims around the world protested and the pope sought to
make amends when he visited Turkey's Blue Mosque and prayed
towards Mecca with its Imam.
 

Sheikh Mohamadu Saleem, executive member of the Australian
National Imams Council, told the pope: "Muslims should become
more inclusive and universal in their understanding of their
religions.
 

"At the same time, significant segments of the Christian
and other religious communities should overcome their
misconceptions and prejudices of Islam and Muslims," Saleem
said.
 

"If Muslims, Christians and other faith communities reach
out to one another and build bridges rather than erect
barriers, the whole of humanity will rejoice forever."
 

THE STING OF REGENSBURG
 

After the fallout from the Regensburg speech, 138 Muslim
scholars and leaders wrote to the German-born pontiff and other
Christian leaders last year and in March, the Vatican and
Muslim leaders agreed to establish a permanent official
dialogue, "The Catholic-Muslim Forum" to improve often
difficult relations.
 

Saleem said he agreed with youths at the meeting in Sydney
who have been saying "Let us promote fundamentalism of love,
instead of fundamentalism of hatred".
 

Asked by a reporter after the meeting if the sting of the
pope's Regensburg speech was still there, Saleem said: "It is
unfair to call Islam a violent religion."
 

Relations between Australia's small Muslim community and
the largely Christian population have been strained since the
Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States and the Iraq War,
with Australia only recently withdrawing its troops from Iraq.
 

Race riots erupted at Sydney's Cronulla Beach in December
2005 as locals attacked anyone of Middle East appearance,
believing they were Muslims intent on "taking over" their
beach.
 

In late 2007 two pigs' heads were rammed on to metal stakes
and an Australian flag draped between them on the site of a
planned Muslim school on Sydney's outskirts. The plan was
abandoned after protests by thousands of residents.
 

Late on Friday, the pope watched as several hundred young
actors performed a live version of the "Stations of the Cross,"
which re-enacted the final hours in Christ's life, including
his crucifixion.
 

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters the
pope was very happy with the reception he has received in
Australia.

Date created : 2008-07-18

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