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Pope Meets Muslim Diplomats

Pope Benedict XVI told Muslim diplomats Monday that "our future" depends on good relations between Christians and Muslims as he sought to put to rest anger over his recent remarks about Islam and violence.

The pontiff also quoted from his predecessor, John Paul II, who had close relations with the Muslim world, calling for "reciprocity in all fields," including religious freedom.

Benedict spoke in French to a roomful of diplomats from 21 countries and the Arab League in his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo near Rome.

After his five-minute speech, in a salon in the papal palace in the Alban Hills, Benedict, greeted each envoy one by one. He clasped their hands warmly and chatted for a few moments with each of the diplomats.

"The circumstances which have given risen to our gathering are well known," Benedict said, referring to his remarks on Islam in a Sept. 12 speech at Regensburg, Germany. He did not dwell on the contested remarks, which set off protests around the Muslim world.

Iraq's ambassador to the Holy See said that Benedict's address to the envoys should end to the anger over the pontiff's remarks on Islam and violence.

"The Holy Father stated his profound respect for Islam. This is what we were expecting," said Iraqi envoy Albert Edward Ismail Yelda as he left the half-hour long meeting. "It is now time to put what happened behind and build bridges."

When the protests started flaring, Benedict offered deep regrets for offense felt by Muslims and insisted his remarks did not reflect his own opinion and were misunderstood. He stopped short of a full apology that some Muslim leaders demanded.

Speaking in Germany, Benedict quoted the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."
Addressing the diplomats, he did say that Christians and Muslims must work together to "guard against all forms of intolerance and to oppose all manifestations of violence."

He said he arranged the meeting to "strengthen the bonds of friendship" between both sides, but he did offer any analysis of the controversial passage, which came in a speech exploring faith and reason.

An envoy from Turkey was among the crowd that met the pope on Monday. The officially secular, but predominantly Islamic nation was one of the first to voice outrage over the pontiff's remarks.

The pope already had a trip planned to Turkey in November when the protests began, which he says he still hopes to make.

Reporting Monday from Castel Gandolfo, CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey said, "Fears have been expressed about his safety and public opinion appears divided whether or not the catholic leader should be made welcome. But so far the trip is still officially on."

Benedict said that dialogue between Christians and Muslims "cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is, in fact, a vital necessity on which in large measure our future depends," he said, quoting to a speech in gave to Muslims in Germany in 2005.

Benedict also cited John Paul II, as saying "Respect and dialogue require reciprocity in all spheres," particularly religious freedom. This is a major issue for the Vatican in Saudi Arabia and several other countries where non-Muslims cannot worship openly.

Pizzey reported that the dwindling size of protests around the Muslim world against the pope is a "sign that dialogue is the preferred course on all sides," but cautioned that the Holy See's call for reciprocal respect and freedom of religious worship in all countries, is "not a concept most religious leaders embrace."

One of Islam's highest profile converts, the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens, who adopted the religion and the name Yusuf Islam, on Sunday criticized the Pope for his comments.

"At one point, I used to believe that the pope was infallible," Islam said in a television interview, referring to teachings he received while attending a Catholic school as a boy.

The pontiff "should have looked elsewhere if he wanted to quote but we respect the pope and his position," he said, adding it was good Benedict had retracted his statement "in a way."

Since his conversion to Islam in 1977, the 58-year-old has become well known to Britons as a campaigner for good causes. Songs such as "Peace Train" made Cat Stevens famous during the 1960's and 70's.

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