Pope Benedict tried yesterday to calm Muslim anger at his remarks on Islam, saying he was "deeply sorry" about the reaction and that medieval quotes he used on holy war did not reflect his personal views.
The head of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics stopped short of a full apology or retraction demanded by some Muslims for a speech they say portrayed Islam as tainted by violence. It was unclear whether the Pontiff's words would end the backlash.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood said it was "a sufficient apology," but in Somalia an Italian nun was killed yesterday in an attack one source said may be linked to the Pope crisis.
"I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address ... which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims," he told pilgrims at his Castelgandolfo summer residence.
"These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought," the Pope said at his weekly Angelus prayer.
"I hope this serves to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with mutual respect," he said.
The German-born Pope was interrupted by applause from the pilgrims at Castelgandolfo, in the hills outside Rome, and he smiled and joked with them about the torrential rain.
But he faces the worst crisis since he was elected Pope in April last year. His comments followed a Vatican statement on Saturday attempting to clarify the meaning of the academic speech made in Germany on Tuesday.
The heads of Muslim countries have expressed dismay at what they see as offensive comments, religious leaders have called it the start of a new Christian crusade against Islam and seven churches were attacked in the West Bank.
In the speech, the Pope referred to criticism of the Prophet Mohammed by the 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus.
The emperor said everything the Prophet Mohammed brought was evil "such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and politicians in Italy rushed to Benedict's defense, saying he had been misunderstood and had really being making an appeal for dialogue.
But angry Muslim leaders flung what they saw as allegations of violence back at the West, referring to the medieval crusades against Islam and to the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have fanned the flames of Muslim resentment.
In Iran, about 500 theological school students protested in the holy city of Qom yesterday and influential cleric Ahmad Khatami warned that if the Pope did not apologize, "Muslims' outcry will continue until he fully regrets his remarks."
"The Pope should fall on his knees in front of a senior Muslim cleric and try to understand Islam," Khatami said.
In a sign that some Muslims have been mollified by the Vatican's comments, the head of Turkey's religious affairs directorate welcomed the statement from the Vatican on Saturday.
Ali Bardakoglu, who had called the Pope's comments "extremely regrettable," told a German paper it was "good that the Pope has now apologized."
The uproar had raised question marks about whether a papal visit to Turkey in November could go ahead, but the Turkish government, while calling his remarks "ugly," said there were no plans to call it off.
The Vatican's secretary of state said he hoped that Pope Benedict would still be able to go to Turkey, the Italian news agency ANSA quoted the official as saying.
"I hope that he will do" the trip, ANSA quoted Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone as saying when asked about the trip. "Until now, there are no reasons not to make it."
Turkey's bishops conference was long scheduled to meet in Istanbul today, and the pope's apostolic vicar in Anatolia said on Saturday evening that the participants were expecting to discuss the pontiff's pilgrimage, which was mainly planned to give Benedict the chance to meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians.
"Tomorrow [Monday] the Turkish bishops conference will begin, which will reflect on the problems and I believe that it will lay out the program of the trip," Bertone was quoted as saying.
The trip would be Benedict's first papal pilgrimage to a largely Muslim country.