Pope Expresses 'Deep Respect' for Islam at Beginning of Mideast Trip

Pope Benedict could face Muslim backlash over 2006 comments about Prophet Mohammed.

Pope Benedict XVI began a delicate trip to the Middle East on Friday by expressing "deep respect" for Islam and calling for a three-way dialogue of Christians, Muslims and Jews to help peace.

He said that peace efforts were often blocked by partisan interests and that the Church could "help reasonable positions bloom" and that it wanted to engage Jews and Muslims in a dialogue for peace.

"A trilateral dialogue must move forward. It is very important for peace and also to allow each person to live his or her faith well," he said.

The pope arrived in Jordan on Friday, where he began his first Middle East visit as a self-proclaimed pilgrim of peace but could face criticism from Muslims still upset over past comments he made about the Prophet Mohammed.

He was met at the airport by Jordan's King Abdullah, Queen Rania and Muslim and Christian leaders. A Jordanian army band equipped with bagpipes and drums played the Vatican and Jordanian national anthems before the pope and the king inspected the honor guard.

The 82-year-old pope appeared careful to avoid politically tinged statements at the start of his first visit to the region, which will also take him to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Benedict's three-day stay in Jordan is his first visit to an Arab country as pope.

Jordan's powerful Muslim Brotherhood has demanded Benedict apologize ahead of his visit for his September 2006 speech in which he quoted a Medieval text that characterized some of Mohammed's teachings as evil and inhuman, particularly his command to spread by the sword the faith.

The pope has already said he was deeply sorry over the reaction to his speech and that the passage he quoted did not reflect his own opinion. But he has not issued a public apology as demanded by the Brotherhood, setting the stage for potential conflict with Jordan's largest opposition group when he arrives in Amman on Friday.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the Vatican has made all possible clarifications, telling Associated Press Television News that we cannot continue until the end of the world to repeat the same clarifications.

During his time in Jordan, Benedict is scheduled to meet with Muslim religious leaders at Amman's largest mosque - his second visit to a Muslim place of worship since becoming pope in 2005. He prayed in Istanbul's famed Blue Mosque, a gesture that helped calm the outcry over his remarks.