VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI, met Thursday with representatives of a Jewish group, and said that religion should never be used to justify hatred and violence and praised every effort to rid faiths of such misuse.
"May the Eternal One, our Father in heaven, bless every effort to eliminate from our world any misuse of religion as an excuse for hatred or violence," Benedict told a delegation of the Anti-Defamation League, a U.S. group that fights racism and anti-Semitism.
The comments came a month after a Benedict speech at a German university sparked anger in the Muslim world when the pope quoted a medieval text that characterized some of the Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman" and called Islam a religion spread by the sword.
Since the uproar over the speech — which has raised a cloud over his planned visit next month to Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country — Benedict has expressed his regrets for offending Muslims.
He has stressed that the quote didn't reflect his own opinion, saying his address was intended as an invitation to frank dialogue between religions.
Benedict repeated such a call in Thursday's Vatican meeting with the ADL, saying that while Catholic-Jewish relations have greatly improved over recent years, initial steps "toward a more open conversation on religious themes" have so far been too tentative.
"It is precisely at this level of frank exchange and dialogue that we will find the basis and the motivation for a solid and fruitful relationship," he said.
The aim of such dialogue, he said earlier in the speech, is "to build relationships not just of tolerance but of authentic respect."
Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, said his group supports Benedict's desire for honest interfaith dialogue, particularly when it comes to relations with Muslims.
"If we really feel our faith is the only one that is right, how can we still have dialogue? The answer is that we must believe we have a truth not the truth. As long as we believe that we can respect other truths," Foxman told The Associated Press in a telephone interview after the meeting. "This is the dialogue we need to have, both Jews and Christians, with the Muslims."
In his speech, the pope also reiterated his condemnation of anti-Semitism, saying that "the Church deplores all forms of hatred or persecution directed against the Jews and all displays of anti-Semitism at any time and from any source."
Foxman said he had asked Benedict to be "a strong, constant voice against anti-Semitism," adding that the pope responded privately: "I will always be available for you as a voice against anti-Semitism."