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ROME (Reuters) - Pope Benedict tried on Sunday 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.
"...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," 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."
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, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 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.
"...ON HIS KNEES..."
In the speech, the Pope, a former theology professor and enforcer of Vatican dogma, referred to criticism of the Prophet Mohammad by 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus.
The emperor said everything the Prophet Mohammad 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 defence, 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 U.S.-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 on Sunday and influential cleric Ahmad Khatami warned that if the Pope did not apologise, "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," said Khatami.
In a sign that some Muslims have been mollified, the head of Turkey's religious affairs directorate welcomed the statement from the Vatican on Saturday.
Ali Bardakoglu, who had previously called the Pope's comments "extremely regrettable", told a German paper it was "good that the Pope has now apologised".
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 church has officially encouraged dialogue with Islam and other non-Christian faiths since the Second Vatican Council that ended in 1965. Benedict has sought dialogue with Islam -- but he also stresses Europe's Christian roots and, before elected, said he opposed mainly-Muslim Turkey joining the European Union.
He may have come closer than any modern-day pope to saying sorry in public for something he has said. His predecessor John Paul II made public apologies for the church's historic errors, such as the Inquisition and its failings in World War Two.
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