Vatican-Muslim talks due in Italy

By Frances Kennedy
BBC News, Rome

Pope Benedict XVI. File photo

The Pope has sought to improve relations since his Regensburg talk

Vatican officials and senior Muslims are due to meet in Rome, hoping to lay the foundations for landmark Catholic-Islamic talks later this year.

Five senior figures from each religion will define the terms of a larger meeting involving Pope Benedict XVI.

Catholic-Muslim relations soured after a 2006 speech in Germany, in which the Pope quoted a 14th Century Byzantine emperor’s criticisms of Islam.

The Regensburg speech provoked Muslim fury and triggered protests worldwide.

But it also prompted 138 Muslim scholars to launch an appeal to the Pope for greater dialogue.

Among the Muslim representatives at this week’s two-day talks are a Turk, a Briton, a Jordanian, a Libyan and an Italian.

The Vatican has regular meetings with officials from Cairo’s al-Azhar University, a seat of Sunni Muslim learning.

But the Pope now seems convinced of the need for a wider, if more difficult dialogue with Islam.