Pope expresses 'deep respect' for Islam on Middle East pilgrimage

Pope Benedict XVI expressed "deep respect" for Islam as he arrived in Jordan on Friday, after some Muslim leaders already voiced concerns over his eight-day visit to the region.

Pope Benedict XVI expressed "deep respect" for Islam as he arrived in Jordan on Friday, after some Muslim leaders already voiced concerns over his eight-day visit to the region.

King Abdullah II, centre, and Queen Rania of Jordan welcome Pope Benedict XVI on his arrival in Amman on Friday. ((Nader Daoud/Associated Press))

The Pope's first trip to the region since he was elected pontiff is being billed by the Vatican as a pilgrimage of peace.

Speaking briefly to reporters on the plane, the Pope said he believes the Roman Catholic Church can play a positive role in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

"Certainly I will try to make a contribution to peace, not as an individual but in the name of the Catholic Church," he said.

He will spend three days in Jordan, followed by visits to Israel and the Palestinian territories. The Pope plans to tour a number of religious sites, including the Western Wall and Bethlehem, the CBC's Peter Armstrong reported from Jerusalem.

But ahead of his visit, a group of powerful Jordanian Islamist leaders known as the Muslim Brotherhood demanded that the Pope apologize for his September 2006 speech in which he linked the Prophet Muhammad to violence.

In the speech, the Pope quoted a medieval text that referred to the Prophet Muhammad's contribution to religion, remarks made by 14th-century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus.

"The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war," the Pope said. "He said, I quote, 'Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.'"

Criticized by Muslim, Jewish leaders

The pontiff quoted Manuel's argument that spreading the faith through violence is unreasonable, adding: "Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul."

He later said he was "deeply sorry" over the reaction to his speech and that the passage he quoted did not reflect his own opinion.

Benedict has also faced criticism from Jewish leaders over his call for the beatification of Pope Pius XII, who served as pontiff during the Second World War and whose legacy has been questioned over his silence on the Holocaust.

Earlier this year, the Pope also backtracked on revoking the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson, who has denied the full extent of the Holocaust. 

The Vatican has since demanded that Williamson recant his views on the Holocaust before he is fully readmitted to the church, while the Pope called Holocaust denial "intolerable."

With files from The Associated Press