FACTBOX: Catholic-Muslim dialogue

Thu Nov 6, 2008 8:28am EST

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(Reuters) - In an unprecedented Vatican meeting, Pope Benedict urged Muslims to join Christians in defending their common moral values and respect for human rights despite their theological differences.

The late Pope John Paul pioneered better relations between Catholicism and Islam and was the first pope to visit a mosque, but they have been strained under Benedict.

Following are some highlights of Catholic-Muslim relations since Benedict's election in April 2005:

-- After his election, Pope Benedict says better relations with other faiths was a priority for him.

-- In June 2006, Benedict downgrades the Vatican interfaith dialogue department by turning it into a division of its culture ministry and posting its director as a papal ambassador abroad.

-- In September 2006, the pope delivers the Regensburg speech implying Islam is violent and irrational. After bloody protests in the Middle East, he regrets any misunderstanding his speech caused but does not apologize.

-- A group of 38 Muslim religious leaders and scholars writes to Benedict in October 2006 pointing out errors about Islam in his Regensburg speech. They receive no reply.

-- The Vatican's interfaith dialogue council is restored to former status as a separate department in June 2007.

-- In October 2007, the same Muslim group, now with 138 signatories, issues a manifesto called "A Common Word" inviting Christian churches to a dialogue based on what it said were the two faith's shared principles of love of God and neighbor.

-- Pope Benedict receives Saudi Arabian King Abdullah at the Vatican in November and discussed ways to improve dialogue.

-- Initially cautious, the Vatican finally accepts the Common Word invitation and agrees in March 2008 to set up the Catholic-Muslim Forum that meets every other year.

-- In April 2008, the pope baptizes Muslim-born Italian journalist Magdi Allam at Easter Mass. A Common Word spokesman sharply criticizes the prominence given this conversion.

-- Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, attends interfaith conference hosted by King Abdullah in Madrid in July 2008.

-- A Common Word delegation visits Vatican in November 2008 for first session of the Catholic-Muslim Forum, including an audience with Pope Benedict.

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