Pier Paolo Cito  /  AP
Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges cheers from pilgrims and faithful during the weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican Wednesday.
updated 3/5/2008 10:38:28 AM ET 2008-03-05T15:38:28

Pope Benedict XVI will meet later this year with Muslim religious leaders and scholars as part of a push for dialogue between Catholics and Muslims, the Vatican said Wednesday.

The occasion for the meeting will be a Nov. 4-6 seminar in Rome. Two dozen leaders and scholars from each side will participate in the Catholic-Muslim forum.

Church officials have said such a papal audience would be "historic."

The Vatican is eager to improve relations with moderate Islam. A speech by Benedict in 2006 about Islam and violence angered many in the Muslim world.

A group of Muslim scholars who have called for greater dialogue with Christians wrapped up two days of talks Wednesday at the Holy See, including with Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, to prepare for the audience.

Search for common ground
Tauran, who heads the Vatican's council for inter-religious dialogue, has said the planned papal audience could inspire the start of historic dialogue between the faiths.

The group included representatives of 138 Muslim scholars and intellectuals who wrote to Benedict and other Christian leaders last year to encourage Christians and Muslims to develop their common ground of belief in one God.

In a 2006 speech in Germany, Benedict cited a medieval text that characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

The pope later said he was "deeply sorry" about the reactions his remarks sparked and stressed that they did not reflect his own opinions.

Muslim participants at this week's meetings included the editor of a magazine base in Jordan and officials of foundations or scholarly organizations, including in Britain and Turkey.

The Vatican did not say which representatives would meet with the pope in November.

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