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Pope: 'Total and profound respect for Muslims' - Sep. 25, 2006 - AP

ROME, Italy (CNN) -- Pope Benedict XVI expressed "total and profound respect for all Muslims" at a meeting Monday with ambassadors from Muslim nations and other Islamic leaders.

The meeting at the pope's summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, was called in an effort to repair relations following controversial comments he made earlier in the month.

Benedict told the envoys that he would "continue to consolidate the strong ties of friendship with the faithful of all religions and particular (with) respect to the dialogue between Muslims and Christians."

"I would like today to stress my total and profound respect for all Muslims."

About 20 ambassadors attended the meeting -- including representatives from Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey and Morocco, as well as members of Italy's Muslim community. Also presents were diplomats from Indonesia, where Christian-Muslim tensions were further heightened last week by the execution of three Catholic militants.

Last month, Benedict had appealed for the men's lives to be spared. (Full story)

Iraq's envoy to Vatican said after Monday's meeting with Benedict that "it is now time to put what happened behind (us) and build bridges," The Associated Press reported.

"The Holy Father stated his profound respect for Islam. This is what we were expecting," said Iraqi envoy Albert Edward Ismail Yelda.

A papal spokesman said the meeting is a sign that dialogue is returning to normal with the Muslim community after a controversial speech the pope made two weeks ago in Germany that included a 14th-century emperor's thoughts about Islam. Benedict has made a series of increasingly apologetic statements since then.

On Wednesday, the Pope said the now controversial quotes regarding Muslims that he made were "able to perhaps be misunderstood" and for the "attentive reader they would be clear," he told an audience in St. Peter's Square.

The medieval emperor's "negative words" did not "express my personal convictions," Benedict said.

During the speech to professors September 12, the 79-year-old pontiff quoted Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus when he said, "Show me just what Mohammed 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."

Global reaction from Muslims has been strong, prompting Italian police to raise the alert level around the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo, a police spokesman said. Protests have been staged worldwide.

The pope, who on September 17 expressed he was "deeply sorry" for the reaction to comments he made, said Wednesday the emperor's words did not reflect how he himself felt. He said the intent of his remarks were to call for a dialogue on the role of religions in modern life.

-- CNN Rome Bureau Chief Alessio Vinci contributed to this story