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Pope, Cardinals Discuss Relations with Islam, Ultraconservative Catholicism

Pope Benedict XVI and Roman Catholic cardinals have convened to discuss various issues, including relations with Islam and a breakaway conservative Catholic group.

The pontiff Thursday met with more than 100 cardinals at the Vatican to debate challenges facing the church.

The 78-year-old pope opened the gathering with a Latin prayer, as journalists watched via closed-circuit television. The video link was cut as the debate began.

Prior to the meeting, participants said they would raise several issues, including efforts to reconcile with an ultraconservative Catholic group that rejects the reforms that liberalized the Church in the 1960s. The breakaway group, called the Society of Saint Pius X, was founded by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

Today's gathering is a special day of reflection and prayer ahead of a ceremony Friday in which the pope will install 15 new cardinals. Those clerics will join the College of Cardinals, the elite group that oversees Catholic doctrine and meets when necessary to elect a new pope.

The 15 cardinals-elect, who were named by the pope last month, are among those attending today's meeting.

During Friday's ceremony, Benedict will give each new cardinal a red skull cap (a zucetto) and a hat (a biretta) that signify their willingness to die for the church.

The new cardinals include Hong Kong Bishop Joseph Zen, a frequent critic of China, as well as the Archbishop of Krakow, Stanislaw Dziwisz, who was a long-serving private secretary to Pope John Paul II.

Among others are Gaudencio Rosales of Manila, Nicolas Cheong-Jin-Suk of Seoul, Sean Patrick O'Malley of Boston and Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas as well as cardinals from Bordeaux, Toledo and Bologna.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.