Friday, May 04, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI Meets With Ex-President of Iran

ROME, May 4 — Pope Benedict XVI met today with Iran’s former president, Mohammad Khatami, who spoke here earlier in the day about the “very deep” wounds between Muslims and Christians.

The two men were originally scheduled to meet last fall, but the meeting was canceled in the uproar over a speech the pope gave in Germany that offended many Muslims. Today, at a conference here on intercultural dialogue, Mr. Khatami was asked whether the tensions raised after that speech had abated.

“Unfortunately, the wounds of this world are too deep, and can’t be closed easily, and maybe only one meeting is not enough,” he said, according to the ANSA news service. “But there is a common effort to try to close them.”

After the meeting at the Vatican, which lasted half an hour, the church issued a statement saying the men had “paused to reflect on the importance of a serene dialogue among cultures, intending to overcome the grave tensions that mark our times.”

In his speech in Regensburg, Benedict quoted a passage written by a medieval Byzantine emperor, including a reference to Islam as “evil and inhuman.” The pope said later that he had not intended to offend Islam, and he apologized for sparking the angry reaction that broke out in parts of the Muslim world.

The Vatican statement today said that the two men also discussed “the necessity of strong initiatives” for peace in the Middle East, mentioning specifically the regional conference taking place now in Egypt on ways to stabilize Iraq.

The statement said that the men discussed one of the pope’s chief concerns: the problems facing Christians in the Middle East, where their numbers in places like the Iraq and the West Bank have been declining rapidly in recent years.

Mr. Khatami, who served in office from 1997 to 2005 and was seen as a reformer, met with other top Vatican officials today as well, including its secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

New York Times

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