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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 20:04 GMT 21:04 UK
Vatican reaches out to Islamic world
Pope John Paul II
The agreement aims to promote "liberty of religion"
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By David Willey
BBC correspondent in Rome

The Vatican has signed an unprecedented agreement with the Government of Turkey to promote religious dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

Pope ordains a new bishop in the Vatican
Muslim world has no central authority and no equivalent of bishops and cardinals

The agreement, signed at the Vatican last Friday, was made public only today and was initialled by Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Head of the Papal Council for Inter-religious Dialogue and by Mehmet Yilmaz, the Head of Turkey's Religious Affairs office.

It breaks new ground in the Vatican's current attempts to reach out towards the Islamic world.

It is the first time the Vatican has signed such an agreement with the government of a predominantly Muslim country as apart from with a religious institution.

Connections 'difficult'

The Vatican already has established links with one of the most prestigious universities in the Muslim world, the al-Azhar mosque in Cairo.

However the Pope's advisers on inter-religious dialogue have always found it difficult to establish new connections with the Muslim world which has no central authority and no equivalent to the Pope and his hierarchy of cardinals and bishops.

Therefore, a senior Vatican official explained that as there is no great difference within the Muslim world between religious and governmental authorities, the official partner in this case is a department of the Turkish Government.

The Vatican's agreement with Turkey promotes liberty of religion, of belief and of conscience and aims to eliminate prejudices.

See also:

23 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Pope urges harmony between faiths
07 May 01 | Middle East
Mosque visit crowns Pope's tour
29 Mar 01 | World
Pope reaches out to Islam
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