Pope urges Muslims to join battle against terrorism
COLOGNE, Germany (AP) – Pope Benedict XVI had been cautious about making any links between Islam and terror strikes during his four-month papacy, but he chose his first major address to Muslim leaders to issue a stern warning that terrorism risked exposing the world “to the darkness of a new barbarism.”
The 78-year-old pontiff urged Muslims to join Christians in trying to combat the spread of terrorism and said Muslim leaders had a “great responsibility” in properly educating younger generations.
He later got a rousing welcome from hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholic youths and other pilgrims as he arrived at the rain-soaked Marienfeld, a former coal mine near the town of Kerpen outside Cologne, for an outdoor evening service as part of the church’s World Youth Day festival.
Benedict waved and smiled at the crowds, estimated at some 800,000, from his mother-of-pearl Mercedes-Benz. Overhead, as if on cue, storm clouds that had threatened to drench the faithful began melting away, unveiling a bright blue sky.
Before his homily, Benedict dedicated a huge bell at the foot of the altar to his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, the man who originated World Youth Day as a Roman Catholic festival. As it tolled, a choir performed a slow hymn while the crowd sang along.
Benedict, who sat on a white chair with a wooden crucifix hanging above him during the meeting with delegates from Germany’s large Muslim community, spoke of terrorism striking in “various parts of the world” but did not mention specific attacks or assess responsibility. It appeared significant, however, that he chose the occasion for his most extensive remarks on the subject.
“I am certain that I echo your own thoughts when I bring up as one of our concerns the spread of terrorism,” Benedict told the delegates, mainly Turks, as they sat in chairs lined up against the white walls of a rectangular room at the archbishop’s residence in Cologne.
“Terrorist activity is continually recurring in various parts of the world, sowing death and destruction, and plunging many of our brothers and sisters into grief and despair,” he said.
“Those who instigate and plan these attacks evidently wish to poison our relations, making use of all means, including religion, to oppose every attempt to build a peaceful, fair and serene life together,” he said.
Ridan Cakir, president of the Turkish Islamic Union, said the participants shared the pope’s position. “With this common platform, we are able together to fight terrorism,” he told reporters afterward.
The meeting, which came a day after Benedict visited a Cologne synagogue to meet with Jewish leaders and met separately with Protestant and Orthodox Christian representatives, was part of Benedict’s outreach to non-Catholics during his visit to achieve common positions on social issues and world peace.
Germany has some 3.5 million Muslims, one of the highest figures in western Europe.
The strong remarks were in sharp contrast with the pope’s previous cautious stance as he has rejected the idea that the world faced a “clash of civilizations” and reportedly overruled an aide who wanted to brand the deadly July 7 London bombings as anti-Christian.
But in warning that the world risked exposure to “the darkness of a new barbarism,” Benedict stressed Saturday that Islamic leaders must “guide Muslim believers and train them in the Islamic faith.”
“Teaching is the vehicle through which ideas and convictions are transmitted. Words are highly influential in the education of the mind. You, therefore, have a great responsibility for the formation of the younger generation,” he said.
Benedict said that by working together, Catholics and Muslims could “turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism that endangers the lives of so many people and hinders progress toward world peace.”
Israel criticized the Vatican last month after Benedict condemned terrorist attacks in Britain, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey but did not mention a suicide bombing in Israel that killed five Israelis.
In his meeting with Muslim leaders, Benedict also alluded to another of his themes _ the need for reciprocity in religious freedom for Christians and other minorities in some Islamic countries. He did not name any, but said the defense of religious freedom “is a permanent imperative and respect for minorities is a clear sign of true civilization.”
Earlier Saturday, Benedict paid a courtesy visit to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his challenger in Sept. 18 parliamentary elections, Angela Merkel.
Merkel, leader of the Christian Democratic Union and the daughter of a Protestant minister, said, “It was great to meet a German pope on German soil.”
Schroeder, who also is Protestant, as are about a third of Germans, had no public comment.
People began arriving at the Marienfeld as early as 9 a.m. to stake out their places, unfurl tarps to cover the wet ground and await the pope. Pilgrims lit candles as darkness fell.
One person broke out of the crowd as the pope arrived and was tackled by several security guards about 150 feet from Benedict’s armored vehicle. Security officials at the vigil declined to comment on the incident.
In his homily, Benedict told the pilgrims that only religion can truly make people free.
“It is not ideologies that save the world, but only a return to the living God, our creator, the guarantor of our freedom, the guarantor of what is really good and true,” he said.
Many pilgrims at the vigil were expected to spend the night under the open sky to attend Sunday morning’s concluding Mass celebrated by Benedict.