DAILY CATHOLIC FRI-SAT-SUN March 12-14, 1999 vol. 10, no. 50
NEWS & VIEWS
POPE, IRANIAN PRESIDENT IN HISTORIC MEETING
VATICAN (CWNews.com) -- The meeting of Pope John Paul II and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami dominated news in Rome on Thursday, March 11.
Pope John Paul II spoke of the 25-minute meeting as "important and promising." A Vatican statement indicated that the conversation was cordial, and contributed to the "spirit of dialogue between Muslims and Christians." Khatami alluded to "the spirit of Assisi"—a reference to the inter-religious prayer meetings which have been conducted annually at the famed basilica of St. Francis. The Iranian leader said the Assisi meetings, which were begun in 1986 at the behest of Pope John Paul, had furnished "a model for common understanding among religions and peoples."
President Khatami said that he and the Pope shared a hope for "the final victory of monotheism, of morality, and of peace and reconciliation." His discussions with the Holy Father reportedly included a heavy emphasis on affairs in the Middle East, as well as on Christian-Islamic dialogue.
After another private meeting with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican Secretary of State, Khatami prepared to return to Iran, saying that he was "full of hope for the future" after his trip to Italy, and especially after his meeting with the Pope.
Raising his voice in order to be heard in a room crowded by reporters, Pope John Paul said after the meeting that the meeting had been "important and promising." The discussions were conducted through translators, with the Pope speaking in Italian and Khatami using his native Farsi tongue. The language barrier did not inhibit a friendly exchange, and one of the Muslim leaders accompanying Khatami embraced the Holy Father as they prepared to leave the papal library.
Vatican officials had been prepared for demonstrations staged by opponents of the Iranian regime, and there was a heavy police presence in St. Peter’s Square before the meeting. But only one group of demonstrators arrived: about 50 people chanted anti-Khatami slogans. Much noisier protests had been staged on the streets of Rome the previous day, when Khatami was meeting with Italian political leaders.
Although this was the first meeting between an Islamic leader of Iran and the Roman Pontiff, diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Iran have remained regular for the past 20 years, despite the uproar caused by the revolution of February 1979. Pope John Paul had previously met with Iran’s Prime Minister Amir Hossein Masavi in January 1989, and with the country’s foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, last year.
In his meeting with the Pope— and more particularly in his subsequent
conversation with Cardinal Sodano—Khatami was probably questioned closely
about the situation facing Catholics and other religious minorities in Iran.
The Holy See is seeking to expand the freedoms enjoyed by these religious
minorities, including the freedom to publish books and magazines, and to
obtain visas for unrestricted foreign travel.
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NEWS & VIEWS