Kathleen Parker

In other headlines, the Riyadh government called for refresher courses for Saudi Arabia's 40,000 imams to encourage a more moderate interpretation of Islam and to discourage extremists.

And in Indonesia, home to the world's largest Muslim population, Christian and Muslim leaders recently met, along with Hindu and Buddhist representatives, to discuss how the world's religions might work together. More than 30 Islamic educators meeting in Jakarta issued an appeal to begin educating young Muslim men in more accurate ways. That is, without justification for violence.

Tipping points and perfect storms have permanent parking spaces in the pantheon of American cliches -- and heaven forbid we should be seduced by optimism -- but the confluence of these comments seems to offer a glimmer of hope for a saner world.

Yet even here, Benedict poses a small problem with his inflexible insistence on human rights, one of the most fundamental of which is freedom of conscience.

While Muslim leaders, including Abdullah, want to talk about the shared love of God common to all monotheistic religions, Benedict has refused to engage in a dialogue exclusively on theological principles of love.

Father Roger J. Landry, priest of the Fall River, Mass., diocese and editor of the diocesan newspaper "The Anchor," wrote in a recent editorial that Benedict has "insisted that the conversation tackle how such love becomes concrete in analyzing how each tradition handles the question of human rights."

This will be the focus of Benedict's message as he visits the U.S., according to Vatican insiders. Although the official timing of his trip coincides with the 200th anniversary of Baltimore's becoming an archdiocese, Benedict's real purpose in coming to the U.S. is to address the United Nations -- to reach as many of the world's people as possible, not just Americans.

His essential message, if only inferred, will be that the ultimate test of any given faith is the freedom to choose it -- or to reject it -- without fear of persecution.

A brave man.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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