COLOGNE (AFP) – Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday used the
first foreign trio of his pontificate to urge Muslim leaders to do
more to combat the “cruel fanaticism” of terrorism that aimed to
poison ties between Christians and Muslims.
The Pope was later greeted by at least 700,000 young
Catholics at a giant open-air prayer vigil as the penultimate day of
his four-day visit swung from the political to the spiritual.
In his address to some 20 leaders of Muslim
communities across Germany, the 78-year-old pontiff told them those
behind terrorist attacks wished to “poison our relations”
But delivering the same kind of conciliatory message
he had given to Jews the day before, he said he was “profoundly
convinced that we must not yield to negative pressures in our midst,
but affirm the values of mutual respect, solidarity and peace.”
Reminding them their “great responsibility” in
educating their young, he told the Muslim delegation who met him in
Cologne there was “no room for apathy and disengagement, and even
less for partiality and sectarianism.”
Young people, like those he would later address at a
candle-lit prayer vigil as part of the World Youth Day festival, were
“the first fruits of a new dawn for humanity.”
Receiving a rapturous reception from the huge
gathering that awaited him at Marienfeld, a former mine complex
outside Cologne, Benedict told them that the “true revolution” to
overturn the injustices of history comes only from God.
“Only from God does true revolution come, the
definitive way to change the world.”
But the pope admitted there was “much that could be
criticized” in the Catholic Church. “It is a net with food fish and
Benedict recalled that his predecessor John Paul had
“asked pardon for the wrong that was done in the course of history
through the words and deeds of the members of the Church.
“In this way he showed us our true image and urge us
to take our place, with all our faults and weaknesses, in the
procession of the saints,” the pope added.
John Paul II in the last years of his 26-year
pontificate apologized for a string of historic wrongs, including the
Spanish Inquisition, the overzealousness of missionaries in China,
atrocities against Jews and the Church’s contribution to slavery.
The admission came towards the end of an address that
was otherwise devoted almost entirely to spiritual matters and the
challenges facing the young.
In one of the high points of Saturday’s vigil, Pope
Benedict pain homage to his predecessor John Paul II by naming a
giant Church bell after him.
Many of the young pilgrims were suspending the night
in the huge park to await the return of the pope for the huge
open-air Mass early Sunday that he is to celebrate with hundreds of
bishops, the climax of his visit.
The Pope is due to return to Rome on Sunday evening at
the end of what is being seen as a highly successful visit.
The open-air mass, expected to attract as many as one
million pilgrims, is the culmination of the World youth day jamboree,
invented two decades ago by John Paul II.
The meeting with the Muslim community was a key part
of Benedict’s pledge to use his four-month-old pontificate to build
“bridges of friendship” with the world’s other monotheistic
Like his message of friendship to Jews at Cologne’s
synagogue the day before, his word’s to Islam’s representatives were
“I Told the Pope that his speech was marvelous and I
cried listening to it,” said Muzeyyen Dreessen, a representative of
Turkish Muslims, who form the bulk of Germany’s 3.5 million-strong
Islamic community and one of three women on the delegation.
“This meeting today was not just a polite meeting, but
a clear signal that we need more courage, more mutual trust,” said a
member of the delegation, Nadeem Elyas, the president of the Central
Council of Muslim in Germany.
As he had with the Jewish community, benedict
acknowledged the bloodstained history of relations between Christians
and Muslims: “The recollection of these sad events should fill us
with shame, for we know only too well what atrocities have been
committed in the name of religion.”