Pope Benedict XVI assured Muslim diplomats today that the Catholic church holds esteem for Islam and called for "sincere and respectful" dialogue as he sought to defuse his recent remarks about Islam and violence.
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 September 12 speech at Regensburg, Germany. He did not dwell on the contested remarks, which set off protests around the Muslim world.
Speaking in Germany, Benedict quoted the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterised 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, Benedict said that dialogue between Christians and Muslims "cannot not 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.
Among predominantly Muslim nations with diplomatic relations to the Vatican, only Sudan did not participate in the meeting.