Pope to Muslims: Religious Persecution Unacceptable

Religious persecution is not acceptable, Pope Benedict XVI said Friday following a historic meeting between top Catholic and Muslim leaders.

While the three days of Christian-Muslim dialogue focused on encouraging better relations between the world's two largest religions, the head of the one billion-member Catholic Church stated Friday that individuals should have the right to practice their own faith without persecution.

"The discrimination and violence which even today religious people experience throughout the world and the often violent persecutions to which they are subject, represent unacceptable and unjustifiable acts, all the more grave and deplorable when they are carried out in the name of God" the pontiff said, according to BBC.

Tariq Ramadan, a senior research fellow at the University of Oxford who participated in the summit, said he thought Benedict's points were "fair."

"No Muslim should avoid speaking about this," he said, according to Religion News Service.

Last week's historic Catholic-Muslim meeting was the first of its kind and brought together 48 leading scholars and leaders of both religions. The official theme of the meeting was "Love of God, Love of Neighbor."

During the Nov. 4-6, meeting, the pope apologized to Muslims for his remarks in the 2006 speech in Germany that referenced a medieval scholar who described Islam as "evil and inhuman" and spreading the faith by violence. The comment had sparked a wave of violence in Muslim-majority countries around the world.

The speech also inspired two open letters to the pope from an international group of Muslims scholars and leaders, which resulted in this past week's Vatican meeting.

A final declaration was issued from the meeting, which renounces "any oppression, aggressive violence and terrorism, especially that committed in the name of religion," and affirms respect for "choices in matters of conscience and religion."

The document also denounces "any form of mockery or ridicule" of founding figures and symbols considered sacred by religious minorities.

"Muslims and Christians have different approaches in matters concerning God... but must consider themselves members of one family," Benedict said during the meeting.

The pontiff challenged the leaders and scholars of both faiths "to overcome past prejudices and to correct the often distorted images of the other, which even today can create difficulties in our relations."