AMMAN, JORDAN — Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday called on Christians and Muslims to serve mankind with the "light of God's truth" and warned that extremists in nations such as Iraq were exploiting religious differences for political and violent agendas.
"Tensions and divisions between the followers of different religious traditions, sadly, cannot be denied," said the pontiff, whose three-day pilgrimage to Jordan is partly an attempt to mend relations with the Muslim world. "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?"
Benedict's speech before Roman Catholic priests, Muslim clerics and Orthodox bishops at Al Hussein bin Talal mosque in Amman was brief. But the copper-domed mosque offered a symbolic setting for the 82-year-old pope to damp criticism of an address in 2006 in which he quoted a medieval emperor's characterization of Islam as a violent religion.
Benedict has said he regretted the outrage he caused and made an effort at reconciliation two months later when he prayed silently with imams in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.
"The pope's visit to the Al Hussein mosque is a message to the Muslim world reflecting his respect for Islam," said Abdul Naser Abu Basal, a professor of Islamic Studies in Amman. He said it was "the opening of a new page with the current pope."
Many leaders in the Arab world, including the head of the Islamic Action Front in Jordan, who said Benedict was not welcome in the country, feel the pope's contrition has not been genuine. They also say he has not spoken forcefully enough on behalf of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and has apologized to Jews for the church's historical mistakes but has not done the same for injustices against Muslims.
That debate is likely to intensify this week; Benedict leaves this moderate Islamic nation Monday for Israel and the West Bank. Before his speech at the mosque, he visited Mt. Nebo, where Moses is believed to have been buried, to reassure Jews that the Vatican wants to "overcome all obstacles to the reconciliation of Christians and Jews in mutual respect and cooperation in the service of that peace to which the word of God calls us."
The German-born Benedict, who has condemned anti-Semitism, angered Jews in January when he revoked the excommunication of a bishop who denies the Holocaust. The church has prevented the bishop from resuming his duties, but Benedict is certain to encounter bitterness from Jews during his pilgrimage, which ends Friday.
The pope, whose white vestments were bright against the black robes of Orthodox bishops and the checkered kaffiyehs of imams, told his audience that Muslims and Christians should be partners in the "noble purpose of serving mankind" to protect society against the "excess of the unbridled ego."
Benedict expressed concern about what he sees as the discrimination that followers of Christianity and other faiths face in Muslim nations such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
"I urge diplomats and the international community they represent, together with local political and religious leaders, to do everything possible to ensure the ancient Christian community of that noble land its fundamental right to peaceful coexistence with their fellow citizens," the pontiff said.