Pope asks Christians, Muslims to find common ground

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VATICAN CITY, Sep 20 (Reuters) Pope Benedict voiced the hope today that Christians and Muslims can avoid violence and intolerance by exploring their common religious values and respecting their differences.

The leader of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics has sought reconciliation with Muslims since an ill-fated speech in Germany a year ago, when he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor as saying Prophet Mohammad spread faith ''by the sword''.

''To avoid any form of intolerance from developing and to prevent violence, we must encourage sincere dialogue based on ever truer mutual knowledge,'' the Pope told visiting bishops from Benin, West Africa, today.

''Such dialogue requires us to train competent people to help know and understand the religious values we have in common and to faithfully respect our differences,'' he said.

Following the shock caused around the world by his speech a year ago, Benedict said he was sorry for the reaction but stopped short of an apology.

Later in 2006 he prayed at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul during a Turkish visit.

About half the population of Benin practise traditional African religions, while about 30 per cent are Christian and 20 per cent are Muslim.

REUTERS SKB RK1905

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