| VATICAN CITY
VATICAN CITY The Vatican and Muslim leaders agreed on Wednesday to establish a regular official dialogue to improve often difficult relations between the two religions.
A joint statement said the first meeting of the "The Catholic-Muslim Forum" will take place on Nov. 4-6 in Rome with 24 religious leaders and scholars from each side.
It said the themes of the first session would be "Love of God, Love of Neighbour", "Theological and Spiritual Foundation", and "Human Dignity and Mutual Respect".
Pope Benedict will address the group, the statement said.
The announcement was made at the end of a two-day meeting at the Vatican with five representatives of a group of more than 200 Muslims who had signed an unprecedented appeal to the pope to begin a dialogue.
Catholic-Muslim relations nosedived in 2006 after Benedict delivered a lecture in Regensburg, Germany, that was taken by Muslims to imply that Islam was violent and irrational.
Muslims around the world protested and the pope sought to make amends when he visited Turkey's Blue Mosque and prayed towards Mecca with its Imam.
After the fallout from the Regensburg speech, 138 Muslim scholars and leaders wrote to the German-born pontiff and other Christian leaders last year, saying "the very survival of the world itself" may depend on dialogue between the two faiths.
The signatories of the Muslim appeal for theological dialogue, called the "Common Word", has grown to nearly 225 since.
Although Benedict repeatedly expressed regret for the reaction to his speech in Regensburg, he stopped short of a clear apology sought by Muslims.
The Vatican side at the preparatory meeting that ended on Wednesday was headed by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
The Muslims were led by Sheikh Addal Hakim Murad, also known as Timothy J. Winter, president of the Britain's Muslim Academic Trust and included Yahya Sergio Yahe Pallavicini, vice-president of the Italian Islamic Religious Community.
"We have to bring the dialogue up to date following the great successes of the pontificate of John Paul II," Pallavicini told Reuters in an interview before the meeting.
Pallavicini said the meeting later this year would undoubtedly talk about terrorism.
"Terrorism is one thing that has to be discussed," he said. "All religious leaders must renew a message of peace in their faith. Then it will be easier to isolate extremists and avoid the wrong use of religion," he said.