VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI on Friday urged Catholics in his native Germany to hold open dialogue about faith with Muslims living there.
The pope, speaking to German bishops during an audience at the Vatican, stressed that Catholics engaging in such a dialogue should have language skills and adequate education in church history.
It was Benedict's latest foray on relations with Muslims since his remarks in September about Islam and violence enraged many in the Muslim world. The pontiff travels to Turkey — his first pilgrimage as pope to a mainly Muslim country — later this month.
"We Christians need not be afraid of a spiritual dialogue with society," Benedict said. "This is also true for our relations with those who belong to other religions, especially with the many Muslims who live in Germany and toward whom we relate with respect and benevolence."
Germany has more than 3 million Muslims, most of them from Turkey.
Benedict said that Muslims, "who remain attached to their convictions and rites with great seriousness, have a right to our humble and determined witness of Jesus Christ."
But, he said, "to offer this witness in a credible manner, obviously we need great commitment."
"That's why where there are many Muslims there should be Catholic interlocutors with the indispensable knowledge of languages and religious history, which enables them to hold dialogue with Muslims," the pope said, adding deep knowledge of the Catholic faith was necessary.
Benedict sparked widespread anger in the Muslim world when he quoted, during a Sept. 12 speech in Germany, the words of a medieval emperor who had characterized the Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman."
Benedict has since expressed regret for offending Muslims and called for dialogue with Islam.