Pope calls on religions to unite against terrorism
Pope Benedict called for all religions to unite against terrorism and resolve conflicts peacefully on Friday in a speech to Australia's Islamic and Jewish leaders.
"In a world threatened by sinister and indiscriminate forms of violence, the united voice of religious people urges nations and communities to resolve conflict through peaceful means and with full regard for human dignity," Benedict said.
The pope also said the Catholic Church was open to learn from other religions, a comment seen in the context of the Vatican's moves to improve relations with the Islamic world. "The church eagerly seeks opportunities to listen to the spiritual experience of other religions," said the pontiff, in Sydney for the Catholic Church's World Youth Day July 15-20.
Catholic-Muslim relations nosedived in 2006 after Benedict delivered a lecture in Regensburg, Germany, that was taken by Muslims to imply that Islam was violent and irrational.
Muslims around the world protested and the pope sought to make amends when he visited Turkey's Blue Mosque and prayed towards Mecca with its Imam.
After the fallout from the Regensburg speech, 138 Muslim scholars and leaders wrote to the German-born pontiff and other Christian leaders last year, saying "the very survival of the world itself" may depend on dialogue between the two faiths.
In March, the Vatican and Muslim leaders agreed to establish a permanent official dialogue, known as "The Catholic-Muslim Forum", to improve often difficult relations.
Relations between Australia's small Muslim community and the largely Christian population have been strained since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States and the Iraq War, with Australia only recently withdrawing its troops from Iraq.
Race riots erupted at Sydney's Cronulla Beach in December 2005 as residents attacked anyone of Middle East appearance, believing they were Muslims intent on taking over their beach.
In late 2007 two pigs' heads were rammed on to metal stakes and an Australian flag draped between them on the site of a planned Muslim school on the outskirts of Sydney. Protests by thousands of residents have since seen the school plan abandoned.
The pope said he recognised multi-cultural Australia's respect for religious freedom, adding that religion was a force for unity, not division.
He said religion can help people of different origins "live generously, forging bonds of friendships with our neighbours".
"At their core human relations cannot be defined in terms of power, domination and self interest, rather they reflect and perfect man's natural inclination to live in communion and accord with others," the 81-year-old pontiff said.
"The universality of human experience which transcends all geographical boundaries and cultural limitations makes it possible for followers of religion to engage in dialogue so as to grapple with the mystery of life's joys and sufferings."