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Pope Answers Ahmadinejad's Provocative Letter

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By Francis X. Rocca
Religion News Service


VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI replied in a diplomatic and general terms to a provocative letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, pledging to find common efforts for "peace and reconciliation" with the Islamic republic.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican official in charge of inter-religious dialogue with Muslims, hand-delivered the pope's Nov. 3 letter to Ahmadinejad on Tuesday (Nov. 9), while visiting Tehran for a conference. The Vatican released the text of the letter on Thursday.

Benedict was replying to an October letter from the firebrand Iranian leader, whose aggressive language toward Israel and nuclear ambitions have led to confrontation with the U.S. and other Western countries.

In his letter, Ahmadinejad called for joint efforts against secularism and the "tyrannical structures that govern the planet," and thanked the Vatican for condemning a Florida pastor's plan to burn copies of the Quran.

Benedict did not address those issues in his reply but wrote in more general terms about the ethical and religious foundations of peace.

"Peace is, above all, a gift from God, which is sought in prayer," the pope wrote, "but it is also the result of the efforts of people of good will."

Writing three days after Islamist militants killed more than 58 worshippers in an attack on a Catholic church in Baghdad, Benedict mentioned the "discrimination and even violence" that Christians face in some Middle Eastern countries.

The pope proposed a commission to negotiate the Catholic church's legal status in Iran, assuring Ahmadinejad that Iranian Catholics "collaborate with their fellow citizens to contribute loyally and honestly to the common good ... becoming builders of peace and
reconciliation."

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