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Pope Sorry His Speech Offended Muslims
``The Holy Father is very sorry that some passages of his speech may have sounded offensive to the sensibilities of Muslim believers,'' Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said in a statement.
The statement came amid mounting anger from Muslims over remarks by the Pope in a speech in his native Germany on Tuesday that was seen as critical of their faith. Calls for him to apologize had spread beyond the Islamic world.
In that speech, the Pope appeared to endorse a Christian view, contested by most Muslims, that the early Muslims spread their religion by violence.
Islamic fury erupted on Thursday and has cast doubt on a visit the Pope plans to Turkey in November.
But the Vatican statement said: ``Confirming his respect and esteem for those who profess the Islamic faith, he (the Pope) hopes they will be helped to understand his words in their true sense.''
Before the statement, the tide of Muslim criticism of the Roman Catholic leader swelled yesterday.
Yemen's president became the first head of state publicly to denounce him and threatened to review ties with the Vatican unless he apologized. Ali Abdullah Saleh, campaigning for re-election, told voters at a rally Benedict had wronged Islam.
Two churches - neither of them Catholic - were fire-bombed in the West Bank, although no one was hurt.
But Chancellor Angela Merkel and other German politicians defended his comments, saying he had been misunderstood.
``It was an invitation to dialogue between religions, she told the mass-circulation Bild newspaper in an interview. ``What Benedict XVI emphasized was a decisive and uncompromising renunciation of all forms of violence in the name of religion.''
``He should apologize to Muslims,'' the president of the German Council of Muslims, Ayyub Axel Koehler, told the Neue Presse newspaper. ``That would be a contribution towards unwinding the tension and creating clarity.''
In the first reaction from a Christian leader, the head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church has joined a growing band of Muslim leaders to denounce Pope Benedict's comments.
They were "against the teachings of Christ", he said.
Coptic Pope Shenouda III told the pro-Government Al-Ahram newspaper that he didn't hear the Catholic Pope's exact words, but said "any remarks that offend Islam and Muslims are against the teachings of Christ".
Egypt's Copts, whose liturgy follows Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions rather than the Vatican, account for an estimated 10 per cent of Egypt's 79 million people.
Pope Benedict made his remarks on Islam in a speech in which he quoted from a book recounting a conversation between 14th-century Byzantine Christian emperor Manuel Paleologos II and an educated Persian on the truths of Christianity and Islam.
"The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war," the Pope said.
"He said, I quote, 'Show me just what Muhammad 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.' "
Clearly aware of the delicacy of the issue, the Pope added "I quote" twice before pronouncing the phrases on Islam and he described them as "brusque", while neither agreeing with nor repudiating them.
Afghanistan's Taliban yesterday demanded the Pope apologize.
"We strongly condemn it," Mohammad Hanif, who regularly speaks to the media on behalf of the extremist insurgent group, said.
The remarks, he said, were "obviously part of a crusader war that the West, chiefly America and [President George] Bush, is waging against Islam and Muslims".
A hardline cleric linked to Somalia's powerful Islamist movement called for Muslims to ``hunt down'' and kill Pope Benedict for his controversial comments.
Sheikh Abubukar Hassan Malin urged Muslims to find the pontiff and punish him for insulting the Prophet Mohammed and Allah in a speech that he said was as offensive as author Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses.
``We urge you Muslims wherever you are to hunt down the Pope for his barbaric statements as you have pursued Salman Rushdie, the enemy of Allah who offended our religion,'' he said in Friday evening prayers.
``Whoever offends our Prophet Mohammed should be killed on the spot by the nearest Muslim,'' Malin, a prominent cleric in the Somali capital, told worshippers at a mosque in southern Mogadishu.
``We call on all Islamic Communities across the world to take revenge on the baseless critic called the pope,'' he said.
Indian Muslim leaders and political parties have demanded an apology. The chief cleric of the 17th-century Jama Masjid mosque in New Delhi said the comments were a deliberate attempt to hurt the feelings of Muslims worldwide. "He should apologize to the Muslims of the world," Syed Ahmed Bukhari said on Friday.
Source: The Sun-Herald