John Paul II’s left of center approach to Islam was controversial. Still is.

He expressed this with strong gestures, at times questioned, at times questionable: the meeting with Yasser Arafat (March 2000 in Palestine and October 29, 2001 in the Vatican), his kissing the Koran (May 14, 1999), the visit to Turkey ( November 1979), his speech to 80 thousand young people at Casablanca (August 19, 1985), entering the great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus (May 6, 2001). His support for the construction of a mosque in Rome, and suggestion that the municipality provide the land.

But above all he launched the idea of a meeting of leaders of all the great world religions, which took place October 27, 1986 and brought together 130 religious leaders from throughout the world. It was followed by two other gatherings in Assisi, and we are waiting for another still in October 2011 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first. Many Catholics have criticized this “ambiguous gesture.”

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