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DateLine Sunday, 9 March 2008

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Pope to host summit with Muslims

Pope Benedict XVI will host landmark Catholic-Muslim talks in November to improve ties between the two religions.

The announcement was made in a joint statement after a two-day meeting between senior Vatican and Muslim leaders in Rome.

Catholic-Muslim relations soured after a 2006 speech in Germany in which the Pope quoted a 14th Century Byzantine emperor's criticisms of Islam.

The Regensburg speech provoked Muslim fury and triggered protests worldwide. But it also prompted 138 Muslim scholars from 43 countries to launch an appeal to the Pope for greater theological dialogue, called the Common Word. Since then the number of signatories to the appeal has grown to more than 200.

Wider dialogue

The joint statement said the first Catholic-Muslim summit would be held in Rome on 4-6 November and would involve 24 religious leaders and scholars from each side. It said the Pope would address the meeting on the themes of "Love of God, Love of Neighbour", "Theological and Spiritual Foundation" and "Human Dignity and Mutual Respect".

Catholic and Muslim leaders hope the forum will start a regular official dialogue between the two religions. The conference will take place just over a year after the Regensburg speech.

Although the pontiff has repeatedly expressed regret for the reaction to his comments, he stopped short of the clear apology sought by Muslims. But the BBC's Frances Kennedy in Rome says the Vatican is now clearly convinced of the need for a wider, if more difficult, dialogue with Islam.

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