Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday urged inter-faith reconciliation on the second day of a Holy Land tour but disappointed Muslim clerics by failing to offer a new apology for remarks seen as targeting Islam.
The pontiff in a keynote address to Muslim leaders in Amman's huge Al-Hussein Mosque bemoaned "ideological manipulation of religion" and urged Muslims and Christians to unite as "worshippers of God."
"Certainly, the contradiction of tensions and divisions between the followers of different religious traditions, sadly, cannot be denied," the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics told his audience.
"However, is it not also the case that often it is the ideological manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends, that is the real catalyst for tension and division, and at times even violence in society?"
No new apology
Some clerics expressed disappointment however that the pontiff in his wide-ranging speech had made no new apology for a 2006 address in which he quoted a medieval Christian emperor who criticized some teachings of the Prophet Mohammed as "evil and inhuman."
The pontiff apologized at the time for the "unfortunate misunderstanding" but ahead of his visit to Jordan the kingdom's main opposition party, the Islamic Action Front, said the pope was not welcome unless he again apologized.
"What the pope said was not an apology," said Hammam Said, the overall leader of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood and University of Jordan professor.
Other Muslim leaders echoed his comments. "We wanted him to clearly apologies," Sheikh Yusef Abu Hussein, mufti of the southern city of Karak, told AFP after the pope's address.
But Prince Ghazi bin Mohammed, Jordanian King Abdullah II’s advisor on religious affairs who hosted the pontiff during his visit to the mosque, was more conciliatory.
"I would like to thank you for expressing regret over the lecture in 2006, which hurt the feelings of Muslims," Ghazi told the pope.
Visit to Mount Nebo
Earlier in the day the pope visited Mount Nebo, a hill overlooking the Jordan valley, where he stressed that the bonds between Catholics and Jews are “inseparable.”
“The ancient tradition of pilgrimage to the holy places also reminds us of the inseparable bond between the Church and the Jewish people," he said.
"May our encounter today inspire in us a renewed love for the canon of sacred scripture and a desire to overcome all obstacles to the reconciliation of Christians and Jews in mutual respect and cooperation," the pontiff added on the slopes of the windswept mountain.
The 840-meter (2,800-feet) peak of Mount Nebo, some 40 kilometers (24 miles) southwest of the Jordanian capital Amman, is holy to all three religions due to the tradition of Moses.
Respect for Muslims
Pope Benedict did not remove his shoes during the keynote address at the mosque, as is customary in Muslim shrines, but a spokesman insisted he had not been asked to do so as he used a special walkway.
"Benedict XVI was ready to take them off but his escorts led him down a special walkway and did not ask him to do so," Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said.
Upon arrival in the kingdom Friday the pope said he came "as a pilgrim, to venerate holy places that have played such an important part in some of the key events of Biblical history.
"My visit to Jordan gives me a welcome opportunity to speak of my deep respect for the Muslim community," Benedict said in his arrival address on Friday, praising King Abdullah for his work in promoting a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam.
"We welcome Pope Benedict's expression of respect and hope his positive statement will be reciprocated by leaders and ordinary people throughout the region," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the U.S.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
In 2006 the pope visited the Blue Mosque in Istanbula, Turkey, and paused in silent prayer alongside senior Muslim clerics. The vist to the mosque was the second papal visit in history to a Muslim place of worship.
Delicate second stage
On Monday, the pope will begin the second stage of his trip by flying to Israel where he is also expected again to focus on building bridges between the faiths.
Israel and the Vatican have clashed in recent months over the papal decision to lift the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop, Richard Williamson of Britain, and over moves to beatify Pope Pius XII.
Israel reviles Pius for what it perceives as his passive stance during the Holocaust in World War II.
The Vatican supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Anything the pope will say on the subject will echo around the region, particularly when he visits a Palestinian refugee camp within sight of the barrier Israel has built near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.
Speaking to reporters on the plane taking him to Jordan, the pope said the Catholic Church would do everything it could to help the region's stalled peace process.
"Certainly I will try to make a contribution to peace, not as an individual but in the name of the Catholic Church, of the Holy See," he told reporters on the plane taking him to Jordan.