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Theological Notebook: Keeping an eye on World Youth Day in Cologne

This is Benedict's first World Youth Day as Pope, and it is being seen as a particularly key moment for him to articulate the vision of his papacy, especially as regards his desire to re-awaken Europe regarding its Christian heritage, which has been so suppressed and forgotten over the last two centuries. Like I did with everything surrounding the funeral of John Paul II and the conclave that elected Benedict XVI, I'll be dropping news clippings into my journal, to keep an eye on how this event is being recorded and reported.

I am particularly interested, for young people, to see their reaction to a new pope, or perhaps more clearly, a different pope: as the story noted, most young people don't even remember there being another pope other than John Paul II. I think just the fact of diversity in the leadership of the church will be a lesson for some young Catholics in understanding that part of their faith. Even if, as many predict, Benedict lacks the particular charisma that John Paul had, I'm rather hoping in a best-case scenario that people understand Benedict better. John Paul's teaching could be so philosophically complicated at times, informed as it was by his professorial work in phenomenology, that I think people frequently connected with him more than they understood him. On the flipside, Benedict's language might be much more classically Christian, enflamed by the passionate language of the love of God that has its roots in Augustinian spirituality, and might directly connect, challenge and educate with the gathered youth in a way that John Paul could not. Particularly in reviving a too-often post-Christian European mind that has been deadened to Christian language and thought, those gifts might be ones Benedict has to offer. So let's see what happens.

Here, for example, are the AP and the New York Times stories on Benedict's arrival, the latter being much more politically-focused:

Pope Talks to Pilgrims at World Youth Day

Aug 18, 12:26 PM (ET)
By VICTOR L. SIMPSON

COLOGNE, Germany (AP) - Benedict XVI arrived Thursday in his native Germany to cheers from youthful pilgrims on his first foreign trip as pope, a journey that will emphasize outreach to Jews and Muslims and evangelizing a Europe that has drifted from its Christian heritage.

Standing on the bow of cruise ship on the Rhine, the pope preached to a crowd of thousands on both sides of the riverbank, addressing his flock as well as the unbaptized. "I also greet with affection those among you who have not been baptized or who have not found a home in the church," he said, urging them to "open wide your hearts to God."

The faith should be proclaimed by believers "from this land in the heart of Europe, a Europe which owes so much to the Gospel and its witness down through the centuries," the pontiff said.

At the airport, the pope was greeted by shouts of "Benedict! Benedict!" from young people attending World Youth Day in Cologne. He said he was looking forward to visiting the city's synagogue, rebuilt after being destroyed by the Nazis, and to meeting with Muslim leaders.

"Visiting a synagogue is close to my heart, and also the greeting of members of the Islamic community," he said, gusts of wind ruffling his white garments and silver hair.

"These are meetings to proceed more intensively on the way of dialogue in the common effort to build a just and brotherly future," he said. "We all know how very important it is to seek this path."

The strong wind knocked off the pope's white skullcap as he got off the plane, blowing it back inside the cabin. He reached for it in vain and decided to go on with the ceremonial welcome hatless.

Winds also toppled the World Youth Day cross from the bow of the cruise ship, breaking one of its arms. The cross was first used during World Youth Day in 2000 in Rome and has been carried around the world by Catholic youth groups, including to the site of the World Trade Center attacks in New York. Workers were busy repairing it.

Benedict landed to a subdued arrival compared to some of the greetings received by his charismatic predecessor, John Paul II. He skipped John Paul's custom of kissing the ground, and only a few hundred enthusiastic admirers were brought to the airport.

Thousands more, however, cheered as they watched on a large television screen in front of Cologne's famed cathedral, erupting in shouts as his plane landed. More than 400,000 pilgrims registered ahead of time, organizers said, and up to 1 million people are expected for an open-air Mass by Benedict on Sunday.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and President Horst Koehler greeted Benedict on the red carpet as he descended from the plane, which had German and Vatican flags hanging from the cockpit windows.

It is the first homecoming for Benedict since his April 19 election. He was born in Marktl Am Inn in the state of Bavaria and served as archbishop of Munich.

Younger Roman Catholics have known only one pope - John Paul, who died April 2 after serving 27 years - and many are curious to see how his successor, a shy former theology professor and Vatican doctrine official, will connect with the faithful at the festival.

John Paul, who founded World Youth Day as a way to evangelize young people, was still very much on people's minds, especially among those who were at his last World Youth Day appearance two years ago in Toronto. Many made their plans to come while John Paul was still alive and had hoped to see him.

Benedict paid tribute to his "great and beloved predecessor" and said he was thankful to be able to address such a throng of young people.

"The meeting of so many young people with the successor of Peter is a sign of the vitality of the church," he said.

St. Peter is considered the first pope by Catholics.

Javier Ayala from Santiago, Chile, began camping out at 2 a.m. Thursday to be first in line for the security check to enter the cathedral square for Benedict's address.

"We want to welcome the pope. We want him to feel we care as much about him as we did about John Paul II," said Ayala, 19.

Peter Jauregui, 20, from Escondido, Calif., said: "I think John Paul set a great example. The new pope, I hope, will follow in his footsteps. I am hoping to see that he does."



Catholic nuns hold hands with pilgrims as they join thousands of pilgrims streaming into the west German city of Cologne on Wednesday, Aug 17, 2005, for the Roman Catholic Church's 20th World Youth Day, visiting the city's historic cathedral and awaiting a visit from Pope Benedict XVI. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All right reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



Pope Benedict XVI waves to pilgrims from the RheinEnergie boat as he cruises down the river Rhine in Cologne, Germany, Thursday, Aug 18, 2005. Pope Benedict XVI arrived on Thursday on his first foreign trip as pontiff to take part in the Roman Catholic Church's 20th World Youth Day in Cologne. (AP Photo/Patrick Hertzog, pool)

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All right reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



Pope Arrives in Germany for 4-Day Youth Festival

August 18, 2005
By IAN FISHER
The New York Times

COLOGNE, Germany, Aug. 18 - Pope Benedict XVI arrived here today to attend a festival of young Roman Catholics in his native Germany, where his central theme on his first trip abroad as pope is likely to be something he has long called for: a renewal of Europe's sense of its Christian roots.

Greeted by shouts of "Benedict, Benedict!" from young people attending World Youth Day in Cologne, Benedict looked ahead to his visit to the city's synagogue, rebuilt after being destroyed by the Nazis, and to a meeting with Muslim leaders.

"Visiting a synagogue is close to my heart, and also the greeting of members of the Islamic community," he said.

During his four-day trip here for the festival, his most visible public event yet, his meetings with Jewish and Muslim leaders will be an important test of this new papacy's stance toward other faiths at a time of strain and suspicion on all sides.

Perhaps inevitably, terrorism has generated the most immediate strains.

After the bombings in London last month, the Vatican trod on Muslim sensibilities when a draft response leaked out calling the attacks "anti-Christian." Both the Vatican and the pope himself quickly corrected course, but many experts wondered if Benedict, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger seemed both wary and admiring of Islam, believed that it was civilizations at war, rather than just militants.

Then, in a diplomatic spat of unusual bitterness, Israeli officials condemned Benedict for not including a car bombing by Palestinians in a list of terror attacks the pope mentioned in a homily. The Vatican responded fiercely, calling into question the legality of some Israeli retaliatory attacks against Palestinians.

For the moment, many Jewish and Muslim leaders say they are willing to put aside these early tiffs before the meetings this week, which all agree are highly significant.

"On the world level, we hope that the dialogue with Islam will go on, and that the way Pope John Paul II began will continue," said Dr. Nadeem Elyas, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, who is among those who will meet with the pope in Cologne on Saturday. "We are very positive about that, because Cardinal Ratzinger had been involved with it."

Abraham Lehrer, a member of the executive board of the synagogue Benedict will visit Friday, said: "The new pope is an example that we hope will penetrate the whole church. We hope that he can fight or check any Christian anti-Semitism that exists."

Experts say that even the fact that Benedict will meet with Muslims and Jews says much about how much the world - and the papacy - have changed in recent decades. John Paul II was the first pope in the church's 2,000-year history to visit a synagogue, in Rome in 1986, and a mosque, in Damascus in 2001.

Now Benedict is matching his predecessor on his first trip, for reasons that seem tied both to this pope and to an intertwined world deeply afraid of violence in the name of religion. The visit seems likely to test the value he places on inter-religious dialogue, which John Paul put at the heart of his papacy and Benedict has promised to do as well.

Cologne is the home of one of the oldest populations of Jews in northern Europe, and the synagogue Benedict will visit Friday was rebuilt in the 1950's after being destroyed by the Nazis during Kristallnacht in 1938.

Benedict's relations with Jews have been long and deep, based in part on his theological conviction that Christianity could not exist without Judaism. But his election as pope was greeted with wariness by some Jews: He is a German who served in the Hitler Youth, however briefly and unwillingly.

So in the minds of some experts, a meeting with Jewish leaders in Cologne was essential, to make a strong public statement against anti-Semitism and to continue strengthening Jewish-Catholic ties.

"A German pope, with that background, you have to do it," said John Wilkins, the former editor of the liberal British Catholic magazine The Tablet. "Now if you do that, Germany has so many Muslims, you simply must include them in view of recent events."

Many Catholic and Jewish leaders view their relationship as a privileged one that John Paul did much to improve, given the anger among Jews about the role of the church during World War II. As a close aide to John Paul, Cardinal Ratzinger played a large role in improving ties, so the intensity of the recent exchange over his homily on terrorism took many Vatican watchers by surprise.

One explanation is frustration on both sides over negotiations on the church's status in Israel, which have continued for over a decade. Another is the perception among many Jews that Vatican diplomacy is tilted toward Palestinians.

But top Jewish leaders say Benedict's gesture in visiting a synagogue far outweighs the recent tension.

"Pope John Paul changed in 26 years 2,000 years of history between the Vatican and the Jewish people," said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, in an interview from New York. "The significance is this pope is telling the world that he is continuing that tradition."

The meeting with Muslims comes with far less mutual history, and so perhaps fewer expectations, though terrorism may end up defining Benedict's papacy. As a cardinal, he was aligned with a wing of the church that questioned the benefits of dialogue with Islam and that viewed Islam as being in competition with Christianity in places like Asia and Africa. Last year, he told an interviewer that he personally opposed Turkey's membership bid to the European Union.

In general, his position had been that Islam gained strength as the West turned more secular and uncertain of itself. The proper response to a resurgent Islam, he maintains, is a West that renews its faith in God.

"In the face of the deep moral contradictions of the West and of its internal helplessness - which was suddenly opposed by a new economic power of the Arab countries - the Islamic soul reawakened," he said in a long interview published as a book in 1997, "The Salt of the Earth." "This is actually the feeling today of the Muslim world: The Western countries are no longer capable of preaching a message of morality, but have only know-how to offer the world."

The meeting in Cologne could be significant for revealing any shifts in Benedict's views, or even new initiatives, now that he is pope and terrorism has become more pressing a worry. It is not known, for example, if Benedict as pope holds the same skeptical view about European membership for Turkey.

It is certain that he has not backed away from the idea that Europe needs to rediscover its Christian roots, however many Muslims live here now. In recent days he has spoken often about the importance of placing crosses on public buildings.

But after the attacks in London, he quickly disavowed the leaked document calling them anti-Christian.

"The intention seems to be much more general, not precisely directed at Christians," he told reporters in northern Italy.

Still he retained some degree of skepticism, in his answer to a question about whether Islam could be considered a religion of peace. "Certainly it has elements that favor peace, as it has other elements," he told reporters. "We always have to seek to find the best elements."

Benedict as pope has, in fact, put a greater emphasis on dialogue with other religions than many Vatican experts had expected before he was elected, and the meeting in Cologne seems to be a high-profile start with Muslims for his papacy. With much suspicion of Muslims in Europe, experts said, the meeting will remind people that terrorists are distinct from the religion itself.

Renzo Guolo, an Italian writer on Islam and the church's response to it, said it was possible the terror attacks in fact have speeded up a desire for dialogue with Muslims.

"One of the radicals' ideas for winning is that those who are Christian and Western would be inexorably the enemies of Islam," he said. "To keep the dialogue open in this difficult period also serves to prove that dangerous thesis wrong."

Bryan Wingfield contributed reporting from Rome for this article.
Tags: benedict xvi, cultural, theological notebook
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