Pope Benedict told pilgrims yesterday that he is "deeply sorry" for the reaction to his quoted remarks of a medieval ruler who criticised Islam but violence continues with the killing of an Italian nun in Somalia and the firebombing of several churches in the Middle East.
"I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims," the Pope told pilgrims yesterday at his Castelgandolfo summer residence, according to a Reuters report.
"These, in fact, were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought," the Pontiff said.
"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."
The comments, part of his regular Sunday Angelus blessing, came at his first public appearance since making the comments on Tuesday.
New Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, had earlier announced on Saturday that the Pope was sorry Muslims had been offended and that his comments had been misconstrued.
In Iran, theological schools closed on Sunday in protest at the Pope. Etemade Melli newspaper reported that senior clerics demanded an immediate apology. The English-language Tehran Times called his remarks "code words for the start of a new crusade".
Morocco withdrew its ambassador to the Vatican on Saturday, calling the Pope's remarks "offensive", while Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi called on the Vatican to "take full responsibility over the matter and carry out the necessary steps to rectify the mistake."
The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the country's main Shiite political bodies, had also called for the Pope to apologise "clearly and honestly".
Iran, Indonesia call for calm
However, former Iranian President Khatami and current Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Susilo endeavoured to calm the situation, warning against jumping to conclusions about the meaning of the Pope's remarks in which he quoted criticism of Muhammad by 14th century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaeologus.
The emperor had said everything Muhammad brought was evil "such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".
"I hope that the reports in this regard are misinterpreted as such remarks [as reported in the press] are usually made by uninformed and fanatic people but my impression of the Pope was rather an educated and patient man," Khatami said after his return to Tehran from a two-week visit to the United States, according to AsiaNews.
Speaking from Havana, Cuba, Indonesian President Yudhoyono said that "Indonesian Muslims should have wisdom, patience, and self-restraint to address this sensitive issue. ... We need them so that harmony among people is not at stake".
Protests and violence continue
However, protests and violence continue in some parts of the Muslim world. Some 200 Iranian clerics and seminary students gathered on Sunday in Qom, 135 kilometres south of the capital Tehran, to protest against what they called the Pope's anti-Islamic remarks.
In protest against the Pope's remarks, the country's clergy seminary centre said all seminaries throughout the country would be closed on Sunday.
In the West Bank two churches suffered damages when stones and Molotov cocktails were thrown at them.
In Somalia, gunmen shot and killed an Italian nun at a children's hospital in Mogadishu on Sunday in an attack that drew immediate speculation of links to Muslim anger over the Pope's recent remarks on Islam.
A nun from the Missionaries order identified her as Sr Leonella Sgorbati, born in 1940, in Piacenza in northern Italy.
The Catholic nun's bodyguard also died in the latest attack apparently aimed at foreign personnel in volatile Somalia.
The bodyguard died instantly, but the nun was rushed into an operating theatre at the hospital after the shooting.
"After serious injuries, she died in the hospital treatment room," doctor Ali Mohamed Hassan told Reuters. "She was shot three times in the back."
A high-level Islamist source told Reuters the attack may well be linked to the controversy over Pope Benedict's recent remarks about holy wars, which have been taken by many Muslims as an attempt to portray their religion as innately violent.
On Friday, a prominent hardline Mogadishu cleric called for Muslims to "hunt down" and kill the Pontiff for his remarks.
"Whoever offends our Prophet Mohammed should be killed on the spot by the nearest Muslim," Sheikh Abubukar Hassan Malin told worshippers at a mosque in southern Mogadishu.
"We call on all Islamic communities across the world to take revenge on the baseless critic called the Pope," he said, according to a Swissinfo report.
Muslim reaction in Australia
Meanwhile, in Australia, the Sunday Herald-Sun reports that a spokesman for the Islamic Council of Victoria says that the Vatican's friendly ties with Islam could be at risk under Pope Benedict XVI.
Islamic Council spokesman Waleed Aly said: "I just hope this isn't an indication that there's going to be a worsening of relations between the Muslim world and the Vatican.
"One of the things Muslims appreciated about Pope Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, was the incredible amount of work he put into interfaith relations, particularly with Muslims."
But Mr Aly said the Australian reaction to the Pope's comments had been slight.
Amid criticism and violence the first balanced views about the Pope's speech appear (Asia News, 17/9/06)
Pope sorry for Muslim remark (The Age, 17/9/06)
Vatican, Islam ties at 'risk' (Herald Sun, 18/9/06)
Gunmen shoot elderly nun dead (Australian, 18/9/06)
Italian nun slain in Somalia, speculation of Pope linkAdd story to my swissinfo panel (Swiss Info, 17/9/06)
Italian nun killed in Somalian hospital (RTE, 17/9/06)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Provisional text of Pope's speech at University of Regensburg, Faith, Reason and the University, Memories and Reflections (Radio Vaticana, 13/9/06)
Benedict tells priests to serve Christ and be His voice (CathNews, 15/9/06)
Religious violence contrary to God's nature, Pope says (CathNews, 14/9/06)
No chance of world without reason, says Benedict (CathNews, 13/9/06)
Benedict says learn Gospel from Africa and Asia (CathNews, 11/9/06)
Benedict heads home to Bavaria, Germany (CathNews, 8/9/06)
4 Jan 2007