Days after he angered Christians by comparing fiery cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri to the Pope, Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik met a delegation of the minority community's leaders and extended "heart-felt apologies" for hurting their feelings by his "uncalled for" remarks.
Malik invited a delegation of Christian leaders led by National Supreme Council of Bishops Chairman Ishaq Mazhar Sandhu to his office on Monday and formally apologised for his remarks.
He contended he had made the remarks unintentionally and in the "heat of the moment."
Malik, known for his penchant for making off-the-cuff statements, had earned the ire of Christians by comparing Qadri to the Pope last week during the firebrand cleric's anti-government protest.
"I assure you gentlemen that I had no intentions to hurt anybody's religious feelings and whatever happened was absolutely unintended, though uncalled for.
"I myself received my early education in missionary schools and I respect not only Christians for their faith and beliefs but all the religions of the world and their followers, as that is the basic teaching of Islam," Malik was quoted as saying by the media.
"I hope you will understand the situation and accept my apology," he said.
Sandhu, who was accompanied by pastors Patras Salamat and Mushtaque Hakim, accepted Malik's apology.
"As we have said earlier, it must have been the result of all the excitement of the moment that Rehman Malik had uttered those words and we always hoped and wished that he would regret what he had said," Sandhu told reporters after the meeting.
Christian leaders contended that Malik's remarks comparing Qadri's attire to that of the Pope had also hurt the community.
Sandhu said Malik had taken some time to respond to protests by Christian leaders.
"We assure (him) that the Christian community will take this apology as an act of honour and not any sort of weakness on the part of the interior minister because this is very much in line with the basic teachings of Islam," he said.
He hoped Malik's apology would boost efforts to promote harmony and tolerance between followers of different religions.