Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pope warns against "corrupt" religion at start of Middle East tour

Amman - Pope Benedict warned Saturday against the "corruption" of religion on the first full day of his trip to the Middle East.

Speaking in Jordan, where he arrived on Friday ahead of planned visits to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, the pontiff said "Religion is disfigured when it is used in the service of ignorance, prejudice, contempt, violence or abuse."

He was speaking at the blessing of the foundation stone of the Madaba University of the Latin Patriarchate, his second official engagement of the day.

"In such a case we see not only the perversion of religion, but also a distortion of human freedom, creating blind and narrow minds," he said.

The German pope - who has previously managed to offend both Jews and Muslims since succeeding Pope John Paul II - contrasted the corruption of religion with the education available at the Madaba university, urging "trust in the gift of freedom."

Good education is a "springboard for personal development as well as peace and progress," the pontiff said.

Earlier Benedict visited the ancient Basilica of the Memorial of Moses at Mount Nebo, and there expressed the wish that Christians and Jews could work together for peace in the world.

"There is an inseparable bond between the Church and the Jewish people," he said.

The pope upset members of the Jewish community earlier this year by lifting an ex-communication order on a Holocaust-denying bishop.

In 2006 he angered Muslims by giving a speech which appeared to conflate Islam with violence.

The pontiff's eight-day tour of the Holy Land - which the Vatican has described as a "pilgrimage" - will take him to Israel and the West Bank.

On Sunday he will give a open air mass on the east bank of the River Jordan, where Christians believe Jesus was baptised.

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