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Pope Tells Muslims Religion Is Force For Unity

(RFE/RL) -- On the second day of his visit to the Middle East, Pope Benedict XVI visited Jordan's largest mosque, where he told local Muslim leaders that it was not religion that sowed division between the world's communities, but its "ideological manipulation."

The pope prayed at the King Hussein Mosque in the capital, Amman, and told an audience who also included Christian prelates that all human beings were God's creatures and that all places of worship were like jewels on the earth.

The 82-year-old pontiff also rejected the assertion that religions are necessarily a cause of division in the world.

"Certainly, the contradiction of tensions and divisions between the followers of different religious traditions, sadly, cannot be denied," Benedict said.

"However, is it not also the case that often it is the ideological manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends, that is the real catalyst for tension and division, and at times even violence in society?"

Speaking earlier in the day at a Catholic university in the town of Madaba, Benedict insisted on the importance of education.

"Religion is disfigured when pressed into the service of ignorance or prejudice, contempt, violence, and abuse," he said. "In this case we see not only a perversion of religion but also a corruption of human freedom, a narrowing and blindness of the mind. Clearly, such an outcome is not inevitable. Indeed, when we promote education, we proclaim our confidence in the gift of freedom."

Reaching Out To Jews, Muslims

The pontiff earlier retraced the steps of Moses in Mount Nebo, where the Bible says the prophet saw the Promised Land before dying. There, he said that there is an "inseparable bond" between Christians and Jews, which is exemplified by the tradition of religious pilgrimages.

Upon his arrival in Amman on May 8, Pope Benedict underlined his "deep respect" for Islam.

"My visit to Jordan gives me a welcome opportunity to speak of my deep respect for the Muslim community, and to pay tribute to the leadership shown by His Majesty the King in promoting a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam," Benedict said.

Jordan was the first stop of a weeklong regional tour that will also take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The pope's visit, billed as a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, is also aimed at encouraging the minority Christian community in the Middle East and repairing his image among the Muslim and Jewish communities.

He angered Muslims in 2006 with a speech where he quoted a medieval text linking the Islamic faith to violence. He later apologized.

More recently, Jewish leaders were angered when the Vatican lifted an excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop.

compiled from agency reports