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Pope Benedict XVI apologizes for offence to Muslims; Archbishop Nicholas Chia assures them of Catholic respect.

WHILE NOT ALL angry Muslims are appeased, many now accept that Pope Benedict XVI is sincere when he says that it was not his intention to cause offence to Muslims. This follows the pope's statement that he was "deeply sorry" for the harsh reaction to his recent remarks about Islam, and his invitation to Muslims to open and honest dialogue.

Right, Pope Benedict XVI speaks during his Sunday Angelus prayer at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, on Sep 17. The pope said he was "deeply sorry" that Muslims were offended by his reference to a historical criticism of Islam, which he said does not reflect his own opinion. CNS photo

"I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims," the pope said from the balcony of the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo. While he was speaking to the crowds gathered there on Saturday Sep 17 to pray the Angelus, the message was also meant for the world, and to Muslims specially.

"These in fact were a quotation from a Medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought," the Holy Father said.

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In his address to academics at the University of Regensburg on Tuesday Sep 12, he quoted a dialogue on Christianity and Islam between Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and a Persian, which took place in Ankara around 1391.

The pope quoted what the emperor said regarding the question of the jihad (Holy War): "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." His choice of this illustration caused widespread anger among Muslims.

On Thursday Sep 12, papal spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi sought to clarify the Holy Father's address and on Saturday Sep 16, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, issued another statement in which he explained that "the Holy Father did not mean, nor does he mean, to make that opinion his own in any way.

He simply used it as a means to undertake - in an academic context, and as is evident from a complete and attentive reading of the text - certain reflections on the theme of the relationship between religion and violence in general, and to conclude with a clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation for violence, from whatever side it may come". But Muslim anger did not abate - until the personal papal apology.

Referring to Cardinal Bertone's statement, "in which he explained the true meaning of my words", Pope Benedict said, "I hope that this serves to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect."

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Statements by many Muslim leaders following the pope's clarification and apology show that anger is abating somewhat. Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi, who is also chairman of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic conference, is reported to have said, "I think we can accept it, and we hope there are no more statements that can anger the Muslims."

"The pope is not just any other person. That is why there has been much anger."

In Indonesia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he hoped there will be a good end to this problem and indicated it was time to move on, while Religious Affairs Minister Maftah Basyuni urged Muslims to forgive and forget.

Meanwhile in Europe, the European Commission has asked that the pope's remarks not be deliberately taken out of context; and Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of 77 million Anglicans, said, "The pope has already issued an apology and I think his views on this need to be judged against his entire record, where he has spoken very positively about dialogue."

Catholic leaders everywhere have been supportive of the pope, stating clearly that the pope had absolutely no intention to offend Muslims even if there was a lack of judgement in the use of the illustration.

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Singapore Archbishop Nicholas Chia, in a statement to be read at all Masses on the weekend of Sep 23-24, said, "We, the Catholic Church in Singapore, assure our Muslim brothers and sisters that we respect them and will continue to develop good relations with their community in Singapore."

Archbishop Chia emphasized that "Pope Benedict had no intention of offending the sensibilities of our Muslim brothers and sisters". He added that the pope himself had expressed sorrow if any passage in his speech sounded offensive to Muslim believers. An attentive reading of the text clearly shows that what the Holy Father has in his heart is a radical rejection of any religious motivation for violence, Archbishop Chia said. The Catholic Church in its official teaching states that "the church has also a high regard for Muslims," said the archbishop, referring to "Nostra Aetate", ("Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, No. 3, issued in 1965). This teaching is what the pope also holds, safeguards and promotes among Catholics, he said. 

- ZENIT, NEWS AGENCIES

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