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Saturday, January 9, 1999 Published at 03:54 GMT

World: Europe

Vatican urges better relations with Islam

The Iraqi strikes strained Christian Muslim relations

By Religious Affairs Correspondent Jane Little

In a message to mark the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the Vatican has called for greater collaboration between Christians and Muslims.

It is becoming a regular gesture for the Vatican to mark other religions' festivals, but this Ramadan appeal was particularly significant.

The message reflects an urgency to reaffirm good relations between the Christian and Muslim worlds - relations many fear have been damaged in the wake of the recent air strikes on Iraq.

Cardinal Francis Arinze, head of inter-religious dialogue, said both religions held similar beliefs on love for one's neighbour and opposition to hatred.

[ image: The pope condemned the Iraqi strikes]
The pope condemned the Iraqi strikes
But he added, Muslims and Christians still fail to love and respect each another.

That is an understatement in many places - like Pakistan, Sudan and Nigeria - where relations are sometimes violent.

Cardinal Arinze's negative note will strike a chord throughout the Islamic world, where Muslims widely condemned the United States and British airstrikes on Iraq.

The sensitive timing on the eve of Ramadan, a month of fasting and devotion, was perceived by many as an affront to their faith.

The Pope was one of the first leaders to criticise the military action and express solidarity with the Iraqi people.

Together Christians and Muslims account for more than half of humanity, and there is an increasing sense of polarisation between the 'Christian' west and Islam.

It is only recently that the Vatican has pursued links with Islamic leaders.

Cardinal Arinze last year signed a landmark agreement to promote dialogue with the senior authority in Sunni Islam, Al Azhar University in Cairo.

But given the importance of improving relations, many argue that more effective, less symbolic connections need to be made.

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