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Theological Notebook: World Youth Day Coverage, Day 3

Contents of today's reporting:

Report #3:
Benedict uses meeting with Muslims to condemn terrorism; Pope tells youth: 'only from God does true revolution come'
Correspondent's Notebook #3:
Cardinal Pell sums up youth day message; Aussies prepare for 2008; Sant'Egidio community in Cologne; Contemplating WYD without a pope; Synagogue visit reaction</h2>By JOHN L. ALLEN JR. (For the National Catholic Reporter)

Pope Urges Muslims to Confront Terrorism (The New York Times)

Pope meets German Muslims in push for better ties (Reuters)


Report #3:
Benedict uses meeting with Muslims to condemn terrorism
Pope tells youth: 'only from God does true revolution come'

By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Cologne, Germany

Though John Paul II was a widely loved figure in Rome, that doesn't mean everyone in the Vatican was comfortable with everything the late pope did. Among other things, some in the Roman Curia have long whispered about an excessively "dovish" approach to Islam under the late pontiff, a bit too soft on terrorism and religious liberty for Christians in Islamic states.

On Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI put down a clear marker that there will be no silence on his watch when it comes to those issues.

"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," Benedict XVI told his Muslim audience.

"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. Terrorism of any kind is a perverse and cruel decision which shows contempt for the sacred right to life and undermines the very foundations of all civil society."

"If together we can succeed in eliminating from hearts any trace of rancor, in resisting every form of intolerance and in opposing every manifestation of violence, we will turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism that endangers the lives of so many people and hinders progress towards world peace," the pope said.

Benedict was careful not to identify Islam with violence -- indeed, he introduced the remarks quoted above by saying he was sure his words echoed the thoughts of his audience. Nevertheless, the choice to address terrorism in such strong language before a group of Muslims seemed a clear challenge to Islamic leaders to confront the radicals in their midst."

Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, who will be the host of the next World Youth Day in 2008, told NCR Saturday that he was "not surprised" Benedict chose this setting to address terrorism.

"The fact is, the most important struggle in the world today is taking place within the Islamic camp, between the moderates and the fanatics dedicated to violence," Pell said.

"We have to do what we can to support the moderate forces, encouraging them to take a strong line," he said.

Pope Benedict certainly did that Saturday evening.

"Words are highly influential in the education of the mind. You, therefore, have a great responsibility for the formation of the younger generation…. There is no room for apathy and disengagement, and even less for partiality and sectarianism," he said.

Pope Benedict was equally blunt on the subject of religious freedom, though he did not treat the theme at such length.

"We must seek paths of reconciliation and learn to live with respect for each other's identity," he said. "The defense of religious freedom, in this sense, is a permanent imperative and respect for minorities is a clear sign of true civilization."

The implication seemed to be that those cultures where religious freedom is not protected, among which some would include states governed by Islamic law, do not represent "true civilization."

Despite the challenging tone, Benedict was unambiguous that the Catholic church is committed to good relations and dialogue with Muslims.

"Inter-religious and intercultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra," he said. "It is in fact a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends."

In this context, Benedict expressed regret for past conflicts.

"Past experience teaches us that relations between Christians and Muslims have not always been marked by mutual respect and understanding," he said.

"How many pages of history record battles and even wars that have been waged, with both sides invoking the name of God, as if fighting and killing the enemy could be pleasing to him. 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. The lessons of the past must help us to avoid repeating the same mistakes."

This language led Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant'Egidio Community, a longtime pioneer in Catholic-Muslim dialogue, to tell NCR that he felt the pope was "very warm" with the Muslims.

"I think his words will be very well received, because they represent the sentiments of the vast majority of peace-loving Muslims," Riccardi said.

In a greeting to Pope Benedict offered by Ridvan Cakir, president of the Turkish-Islamic Union in Germany, Cakir touched an issue that Benedict did not address: Turkey's candidacy to join the European Union. Prior to becoming pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had expressed reservation about Turkey's admission in terms of its impact on the Christian identity of Europe.

"Turkey offers a remarkable example of experiences of different religions and cultures living in friendship with one another," Cakir said. "The entry of Turkey into the European Union is an important opportunity, which one should evaluate within this framework."

If today's address suggests a more measured approach to Islam under Benedict than under John Paul, it would track with previously expressed judgments from the pope.

At a personal level, Ratzinger had fruitful contacts with Muslims. When the Iranian Ayatollah Kashani, for example, a member of the powerful Council of Guardians in Tehran, decided to write a book comparing Islamic and Christian eschatological themes, Ratzinger met with him in the Vatican and swapped theological ideas.

In his address to the representatives of other religions the day after his April 24 installation Mass, Pope Benedict made a point of mentioning Muslims.

"I express my appreciation for the growth of dialogue between Muslims and Christians, both at the local and international level. I assure you that the church wants to continue building bridges of friendship with the followers of all religions, in order to seek the true good of every person and of society as a whole," he said.

Yet he has not been shy about voicing concerns.

"Islam has a total organization of life that is completely different from ours; it embraces simply everything," he said in 1997. "There is a very marked subordination of woman to man; there is a very tightly knit criminal law, indeed, a law regulating all areas of life, that is opposed to our modern ideas about society. One has to have a clear understanding that it is not simply a denomination that can be included in the free realm of a pluralistic society."

At the vigil for youth
Later Saturday evening, Benedict XVI went to the plain of Marienfeld, a former open-pit mine, for a vigil with youth. Estimates of crowd size ranged from nearly 500,000 to over 700,000.

The pope's message struck several themes that represent classic elements of the thought of Joseph Ratzinger. A man who watched the Nazis come to power in his early years, and who later saw his country divided with a Soviet-style dictatorship in East Germany, issued a stern warning about the dangers of human ideology.

"Only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world," he said. "In the last century we experienced revolutions with a common program -- expecting nothing more from God, they assumed total responsibility for the cause of the world in order to change it. And this, as we saw, meant that a human and partial point of view was always taken as an absolute guiding principle."

"Absolutizing what is not absolute but relative is called totalitarianism," the pope said. "It does not liberate man, but takes away his dignity and enslaves him. 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.

"True revolution consists in simply turning to God who is the measure of what is right and who at the same time is everlasting love. And what could ever save us apart from love?"

While Benedict was warmly received by the large crowd, his demeanor was generally less exuberant than that of his predecessor, John Paul II, who was known for his special rapport with youth. As he read his homily in German, English, French, Spanish and Italian, however, Benedict's delivery became more impassioned, and at certain points he almost shouted certain key phrases.

In the end, the homily was interrupted by applause 12 times (though three of those occasions seemed to reflect enthusiasm for the shift into a particular language, and once came in response to the name of John Paul II).

The vigil featured a theme of light, accented by 7,000 votive candles positioned in front of the altar mound, and hundreds of thousands of small candles held by the crowd, transforming Marienfeld into a sea of light. The symbolism invoked both the resurrection, and the image of Magi following a light in the sky to find the Christ child.

The Magi, whose remains are believed to rest in the Cologne cathedral, are part of the official World Youth Day theme.

August 20, 2005, National Catholic Reporter



Correspondent's Notebook #3:
Cardinal Pell sums up youth day message; Aussies prepare for 2008; Sant'Egidio community in Cologne; Contemplating WYD without a pope; Synagogue visit reaction

By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Cologne, Germany

When Pope Benedict XVI announces tomorrow that the next World Youth Day will be held in Sydney, Australia, in July 2008, the man of the hour will be Cardinal George Pell of Sydney -- the driving force and architect of the event.

Pell can be something of a polarizing figure, especially in laid-back Australia, with his unapologetic commitment to traditional Catholic teaching and practice. The motto on his coat of arms is "Be Not Afraid," and it characterizes him well. Pell is unafraid to challenge conventional wisdom and to practice plain speech when he thinks the culture is off-track.

I sat down with Pell, who has emerged in recent years as a major force in English-speaking Catholicism, this morning at his Cologne hotel.

What's his judgment on how Benedict XVI, his friend and undoubtedly his candidate in the April conclave, is doing so far on a platform designed for Pope John Paul II?

"I think he's off and running, and running well," Pell said. "Our kids are delighted with his friendliness, his personality. I think his reception on the Rhine the other day demonstrated that."

There are roughly 2,200 Australian youth in Cologne.

Pell recalled the events in Rome after the death of John Paul, including then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's memorable homily at the April 8 funeral Mass.

"It was obvious that he can speak, with success, to great crowds of people," Pell said.

In fact, though Pell did not make the point, several cardinals said after the fact the funeral Mass was an important factor in conclave politics, because it showed that Ratzinger could play on the elevated stage that John Paul II had erected.

At the same time, Pell conceded that Benedict XVI does not have the populist charisma of John Paul II. The point came up when I asked him if he was at all concerned that mega-events such as World Youth Day create a "cult of personality" around the pope.

"That concern is much less than it was, because the present pope has nothing like the following of the previous one," he said.

"John Paul II was very well aware of the risks" of a cult of personality, Pell said. "He worked resolutely so that Christ would be at the center of it. Our efforts have to be Christo-centric."

I asked Pell to sum up Benedict's message in Cologne.

"He's affirming the Christian message, the Catholic package, so to speak," he said.

Pell said doing so is perhaps especially important for youth from a highly secularized culture such as Australia.

"The substantial majority of Australian youth have no clear religious identity, and no clear understanding of our teachings," he said. "World Youth Day shows that we have something to offer that may be helpful."

I asked Pell why he pushed so hard for World Youth Day to come to Sydney.

"To strengthen the faith of young Australian Catholics," he said. "Increasing numbers of youth will have burnt their fingers on what we might call, somewhat provocatively, 'neo-pagan alternatives,' and they're looking for something."

"At World Youth Day, you see tens of thousands of young, normal, happy Christians, and that can't help but give young people pause for thought."

Pell said that in the first place, he sees the Sydney World Youth Day as an offering to the youth of his region.

"We have proposed putting a special emphasis on getting people from Oceania," he said.

Pell noted that this will be the first time that a World Youth Day has been held in Oceania. Cost and distance often limit the number of young people from Oceania that can attend the event in Europe or North America. Because it's so far away, it also tends not to draw much media coverage in the Australian press, limiting its boomerang effect as a tool of evangelization.

At the same time, Pell stressed that he doesn't conceive of the Sydney World Youth Day as exclusively an intra-Australian event.

"People coming from other parts of the world will have their faith strengthened too," he said.

Pell, the former archbishop of Melbourne, said he was "converted" to World Youth Day after traveling with a group of 200 Melbourne pilgrims through the Holy Land on their way to the World Youth Day in Rome in 2000.

"I saw the wave of conversions that followed," he said. "I was very impressed with that."

As for the logistics of the event, Pell told me that the cost of travel to and from Australia from Europe or the United States is 2,000 Australian dollars -- roughly US$1500. Obviously, he pointed out, much will depend on how the Australian dollar fares against the Euro and the American dollar between now and 2008.

Pell estimated that the total cost of World Youth Day in Sydney will be between 50 and 60 million Australian dollars, roughly US$37-45 million. That's just about one-third of the estimated US$121 million the Germans are spending on Cologne.

How can he do it for so much less?

"Cologne's a small city, and the events are spread over three venues," he said. "That meant they had to stage three opening Masses, whereas we'll only have one. We have all the facilities from the Sydney Olympics in 2000, which are more than adequate for our needs."

Pell said the city of Sydney has already agreed to commit the Olympic facilities for the event.

The bottom line, Pell said, is that he wanted World Youth Day in Sydney because it works.

"I don't just mean in a happy-clappy kind of way," he said. "From speaking with our own pilgrims, seeing kids from all over the world in prayer, listening to them ask deep questions during the catechetical sessions, it's clear that this event is strengthening the faith of a lot of young people."

Sydney's World Youth Day will be held July 15-20, 2008. Discussions are currently underway between local organizers and the Pontifical Council for the Laity about a theme.

There was some discussion about whether the Sydney edition of World Youth Day should be held in January or June/July, since July is winter in Australia. In the end, however, the feeling was that many pilgrims from other parts of the world might be discouraged from coming if the event was held during their winter, when getting away, especially over such a long distance, is much more difficult.

An official of the Sydney archdiocese said winter there is fairly mild, with some sunshine and relatively cool, but not freezing, temperatures.

* * *

I also spoke today with Sandra Nori, the tourism minister for Sydney and its surrounding state, New South Wales. Nori is in Cologne this week watching how the Germans do things, in preparation for things to come.

Nori told me that her office has been working with the Sydney archdiocese since 2003 to prepare the bid for World Youth Day, and she was part of a five-member team that made Sydney's presentation to the Pontifical Council for the Laity. She said that there's a sense in which World Youth Day is like the Olympic games from a logistical point of view -- venue management, people movement, and so on.

New South Wales, Nori said, has committed to invest 20 million Australian dollars, roughly US$15 million. Part of that amount, she said, is "in value and kind," in logistical support and services. The federal government will also contribute, in addition to the registration fees from participants, financing from the church, and corporate sponsorship.

Why is the state gung-ho about World Youth Day?

"We see it as our mission to support major public events, even if they represent a more narrow sector of society," Nori said. "After all, not everyone is a fan of the Olympics. We also support motor racing, and that's not everyone's cup of tea."

Second, Nori said, "if the event is going to go ahead, it's in the interests of the city and the state to ensure that it be done properly."

Nori said she expects at least 100,000 young people to attend the Sydney event from other countries, and perhaps many more. Research shows, she said, that Australia is a "highly aspirational destination."

"Many young people will be pulled here because as they see it, it will be their only chance to do something they see as quite desirable." Moreover, she said, there will be "pre- and post-touring," in addition to repeat business later in life if these young people have positive experiences of Australia at World Youth Day.

I asked Nori what she had learned from watching the Germans.

First, she said, Sydney is much bigger than Cologne -- 4 million to 800,000. That means events will not have to spread out over several localities.

Second, because Australia is more difficult to reach, few people will just "show up" from overseas. The vast majority of participants will register and work out visa problems well in advance.

As the tourism minister, Nori is concerned that some people will be discouraged from coming to Sydney because of fears about the costs of travel. She insisted that it's not as expensive as people think, and that she's optimistic airlines will cooperate in offering special fares. Further, she pointed out, if current exchange rates hold, Europeans, Americans and especially the English will find that everything's cheaper than back home -- from hamburgers to hotel rooms.

"They'll make a killing," she said.

Finally, I pressed Nori for the bottom line: How much does she think Sydney will benefit in terms of the economic effect of World Youth Day?

She said that her office employs a formula to generate such estimates, and allowing for certain unique features of World Youth Day, such as the fact that many youth will stay with families rather than hotels, she believes the city and state will make back its investment at a rate of at least 3-1, and perhaps as much as 5-1. That means she expects a boom in terms of hotels, restaurants, shops, and so on of at least $45 million in U.S. dollars, up to $75 million.

* * *

World Youth Day tends to draw a galaxy of stars in the Catholic firmament. On Saturday, returning to my hotel, I bumped into Andrea Riccardi, the founder of the Sant'Egidio community.

I asked Riccardi for his verdict on how Benedict XVI is doing so far.

"It seems to me a good debut," he said. "He's speaking from the heart, and from his wisdom. He comes across as humble and human."

"He's offering the youth a plan for life, but he's not imposing it on them," Riccardi said. "He's proposing it to them."

In effect, Riccardi said, what Benedict XVI has done in Cologne amounts to a triptych. One panel is devoted to youth, another to the Jews, and a third to Muslims (See Report #3 for Aug. 20).

Given that Sant'Egidio has long been committed to dialogue with both Jews and Muslims, I was especially interested in Riccardi's take on Friday's visit to the synagogue.

"First, I thought his call that we reformulate together our faith, re-speak it together, was very important," Riccardi said.

"Second, it was important that the pope talked not just about the past, but about the future. Sometimes we can get locked in debates about the past that make it difficult for us to move forward together in the future," he said.

On the subject of Sydney as the host of the next World Youth Day, Riccardi said it will probably change a bit the nature of the event. Rather than being a truly international event, it will be "primarily local," he said, "with representatives of youth from around the world."

* * *

Is a World Youth Day without the pope thinkable?

In various forms, this question seems to hover around the edges of the 2005 edition of World Youth Day in Cologne, the first without the event's founder and longtime star attraction, Pope John Paul II. While by most accounts the performance of his successor, Benedict XVI, has exceeded expectations, some longtime veterans of the planning and execution of World Youth Days think in the future, gatherings involving the pope could become less frequent.

So far, this is a matter of speculation and reading of the tea-leaves, rather than a firm decision. The next World Youth Day is three years away, leaving Benedict XVI and others involved in the planning plenty of time to ponder the alternatives.

Yet there are a variety of factors that lead to this sort of reflection.

In speaking to one prominent archbishop yesterday, I asked him if there was concern about turnout for the new World Youth Day, especially given that Sydney, Australia, is a long way for many people to travel. What kind of numbers, I asked, should we expect?

"It depends on whether the pope goes," he said.

Pressing him on the point, he said that, for one thing, Benedict XVI will be 81 years old in July 2008, and a transcontinental journey of that length could be hard on an older man.

For another, this archbishop said, Benedict XVI is not a man attracted to the rock-star dimensions of the papacy. Though he obviously sees the formation of youth as a priority, he may not regard the sort of scene that unfolded Thursday afternoon, with the pope standing in the bow of a ship sailing to thunderous applause up and down the Rhine River as the best or only way to go about it.

There's also the risk of confusion between World Youth Day, and an apostolic voyage of the pope, at least in terms of focus, and perhaps especially with the press. In Cologne, for example, on Friday the pope's visit to the synagogue competed with the young pilgrims as the day's main story, as did his strong language on terrorism with the Muslims on Saturday. (See Report #3 Aug. 20) In that sense, the presence of the pope is a double-edged sword -- it draws attention, but not always to what organizers of World Youth Day might want.

This is a much easier argument to make in the abstract, of course, when you don't actually face the responsibility of organizing a World Youth Day, and feel pressure to galvanize the largest turnout possible in order for the event to have the desired impact in the culture.

Pell, for example, told me that the presence of the pope is "almost essential."

"A lot of Catholic kids will come simply to be able to say that they've seen the pope," he said. "It's not just the individual personality, but respect for the office."

"We could do it without the pope," he said, "but it will be much easier with him. I think many young people would be greatly disappointed if he doesn't come."

Nori agreed that young people would be disappointed, but was more optimistic about the outcome if Benedict XVI does not make it.

"People were signing up for Cologne even when John Paul II was in very poor health," she said. "I don't see this as a huge factor. World Youth Day is a maturing event in the global context, and it will get more and more focus in coming years."

I had dinner Friday with a couple of veteran youth ministers, people who have been involved at senior levels in the planning and organization of several World Youth Days, and their feeling was that while the pope is a critical draw for many young people, his presence is not the essence of the event. From their point of view, the core of World Youth Day is to connect faithful young Catholics with other people like themselves from all over the world, and to model Catholic "best practices" -- to show them how to organize moving liturgies, successful catechetical sessions, and attractive experiences of prayer and devotion in both sacred and secular spaces. If these are the event's aims, they believe, the pope is something akin to the cherry on top of the ice cream -- a wonderful way of capping the experience, but not the heart of the matter.

I asked Basilian Fr. Thomas Rosica, for example, the chief organizer of World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002, if the presence of the pope is essential for World Youth Day.

"It's not," he said. "We're at a different moment now. John Paul II was essential to get this started, but World Youth Day is now seen as an essential pastoral tool for the evangelization of youth. Whether the pope is there or not, is not the question."

"A boat ride down the Rhine as a beautiful photo opportunity is not the point," he said. "What we have to ask is, are we leading young people to an encounter with Jesus Christ?"

Rosica said he believes there's a need for a "serious evaluation" of the purpose and methods of World Youth Day, arguing that in a sense the event has become a victim of its own success. Because it is the premier Catholic gathering in the world, "everyone wants a piece of the action." The result, Rosica said, is a proliferation of events and attractions that can threaten its core objectives.

Rosica said he could anticipate a future in which youth gatherings with the pope are held less frequently, perhaps every five years, with large gatherings held by continent in the interim.

There is at least one model for a successful Catholic youth summit that did not involve the pope: the Continental Meeting of Youth held in Santiago, Chile, from Oct. 6-11, 1998, which drew more than a half-million Catholic young people from North, Central and South America together for a week-long experience of service, catechesis and prayer. Though there was hope initially that the pope might attend, it was clear several months in advance that it was not going to happen, and yet the event drew large, enthusiastic crowds anyway.

"That was the trial balloon," Rosica said of the event in Chile.

Pell, however, was skeptical that the summit in Santiago amounts to a model for the rest of the world.

"In the English-speaking world, with the exception of Ireland and a couple of other places, Catholics are a minority," he said. "Catholic culture is much stronger in Latin America. They can do things that we have to work much harder on."

Riccardi, whose Sant'Egidio community is known for its success in attracting a following among young Catholics, said he felt World Youth Day could be staged successfully without the physical presence of the pope.

"Brother Roger Schutz did a kind of World Youth Day without the pope," he said. Schutz was the founder of the Taizé Community in France, and was killed just before the Cologne event opened. Tens of thousands of young people come on pilgrimage from around the world every year to Taizé.

"In effect, we did this last Easter without the pope," Riccardi said, referring to the poor health of John Paul II that prevented him from taking part in most events.

"Ratzinger is convinced of the necessity of the role of the pope as the successor of Peter," Riccardi said. "But he's not excessive about it."

What about the pope's star quality?

"Youth today love the stars," he said. "But with the silence of John Paul II in recent years, we've become accustomed to having fewer stars."

If part of the point of World Youth Day is to generate media attention in the church's message, experience seems to prove Pell's point. A Lexis-Nexis search of English language media for October 1998 showed virtually no coverage for the Santiago summit, despite the impressive turnout of 500,000 youth and the presence of Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican's Secretary of State (and a former nuncio to Chile during the critical Pinochet years).

I conducted an informal survey of my colleagues in the secular press, representing major news agencies, newspapers, and television networks. I asked them, "If World Youth Day in Cologne had played out exactly as it has, with the same attendance, the same events, the same gathering of bishops and cardinals, and so on, but without the pope, would you be here?"

Almost to a person, they said no. They added that local correspondents might cover part of the event, but all agreed that the interest of the mainstream secular media would be greatly reduced.

Hence the dilemma facing World Youth Day seems to be, how to exploit the charisma and visibility of the papacy without allowing it to swamp everything else organizers hope to accomplish.

"If this has become a monster that we can't control, the question to ask is, how do we recapture the original vision of John Paul II, in all its simplicity?" Rosica said.

* * *

Obviously, the encounter with the pope is in many ways the heart of the World Youth Day experience. It is the culminating event, with a Saturday vigil, which usually involves sleeping overnight on the field where the Mass will be celebrated, and then the Mass itself Sunday morning.

Yet in asking young participants from around the world about what they take away, what has truly shaped their imagination and life of faith, the pope often emerges as only one of several factors, and in at least some cases not necessarily the most decisive.

Consider Matthew Dubeau, 24, of Port Angeles, Washington, whom I met Friday morning outside one of the catechetical sessions. He was in the process of disassembling a large portable flagpole he had been using to port around the Stars-and-Stripes, so he could enter the church.

What impression, I asked him, did the pope make on him Thursday on the Rhine?

Dubeau reflected a moment, and then said: "He was shorter than I thought."

The point is not that Dubeau was unimpressed with pope's presence, or uninterested in what he had to say. It's rather that, like many World Youth Day participants, he was far away, couldn't hear well, and exhausted from other activities.

So, what has struck him about the WYD experience?

"I come from an area without many Catholics," he said. "It's always good to be reminded that although we may be a minority, there are an awful lot of us. It makes you more excited, ready to get involved with things."

Deedee Gonzales, 18, from the same area, agreed.

"Meeting other Catholic youth from all over the world makes you want to be more dedicated," she said. "You want to go to church more, to pray more."

How important is the pope to all that?

"Of course I want to see the pope," Gonzales said. "But even if that didn't happen, I think I'd feel like this was a really good thing."

* * *

Benedict XVI's visit yesterday to the Cologne synagogue seems to be playing to largely favorable reaction in Jewish circles. The Anti-Defamation League, for example, based in New York, released the following statement:
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) hails Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Roonstrasse Synagogue in Cologne as historic and "speaks volumes, not just to the Jewish community, but indeed the whole world." Inspired by the changes of the Second Vatican Council's declaration Nostra Aetate, and the remarkable example set by the Pope's immediate predecessor John Paul II, Benedict has charted a steady course in the holy work of reconciliation between Catholics and Jews.
In a letter sent to Pope Benedict XVI, Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, and Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, ADL Director of Interfaith Affairs, said "The very symbol of your presence on the pulpit of Northern Europe's oldest synagogue - destroyed by your some of your countrymen under the influence of a murderous and morally bankrupt regime, and rebuilt by the hopes of a saving remnant - demonstrates to the world that we can look to the future without erasing the past."

Mr. Foxman and Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor were heartened the Pope's acknowledgement that 'new signs of anti-Semitism are emerging' and stated, 'We look to you as a partner in the work of eradicating the scourge of baseless hatred and xenophobia, that too often targets the Jews -- even in places where Jews are absent.

They went on to say, 'We stand ready to work together for the defense and promotion of human rights, social justice and peace for the world.'
August 20, 2005, National Catholic Reporter



Pope Urges Muslims to Confront Terrorism


August 21, 2005
By IAN FISHER for The New York Times

COLOGNE, Germany, Aug. 20 - Pope Benedict XVI used his first meeting with Muslims to deliver a blunt message on Saturday that Christianity and Islam had no choice but to work together to quell terrorism, which he said represented "the darkness of a new barbarism."

In a Europe awash in new antiterror laws and fear of new attacks after the bombings last month in London, the pope said an improvement in relations "cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is, in fact, a vital necessity, on which a large measure of our future depends."

Benedict's words, to a group of 10 Muslims, most of them from an organization of Turks in Germany, were some of the strongest of his young pontificate, and seemed to elevate the issue of terrorism and relations with Islam to the top of his agenda.

His tone seemed several degrees tougher than that of his predecessor, John Paul II, who at 60 meetings with Muslims emphasized more their common ancestry in Abraham. Pope Benedict's tone was not contentious and he laid no blame. But he spoke with a more direct urgency.

He told the gathering here of the "great responsibility" Muslim teachers had to educate their youth, and though he did not say it, he seemed to be speaking of an education against hatred and violence. He also seemed to transmit a broader message on a delicate topic for the church: the rights of Christian minorities to practice their faith in predominantly Muslim countries.

"Respect for minorities is a clear sign of true civilization," he said in German.

While the pope has denounced terrorism in the past, his speech on Saturday was by far the most detailed, both in its description of the danger and his view that better communication between Christianity and Islam - religions which he acknowledged had an often violent past relationship - was the only answer.

"Terrorism of any kind is a perverse and cruel decision, which shows contempt for the sacred right to life and undermines the very foundation of all civil society," Benedict said, according to the transcript of his speech.

"If together we can succeed in eliminating from our hearts any trace of rancor, in resisting every form of intolerance and in opposing every manifestation of violence, we will turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism that endangers the lives of so many people."

The meeting was relatively brief, about a half an hour, and was held not in a mosque but at the Catholic seminary where Benedict is staying on his four-day trip here as the star attraction of a huge festival of young Catholics, World Youth Day. It is his first trip abroad as pope.

But the participants said they appreciated the invitation, and shared the pope's worries about terrorism. Germany is home to about 3.5 million Muslims, most of them Turkish, and many European Muslims worry that they are being eyed with increasing suspicion.

"Terrorism is not only a problem that comes up in countries where there are Christians," Ridvan Cakir, president of the Turkish Islamic Committee in Europe, said after the meeting, which unlike one between the pope and Jews in Cologne of Friday, was closed to reporters and television cameras. "It's a problem that we all share, he said. "We all have to be aware of that problem and fight against it."

Seyda Can, 27, one of three women who attended the meeting, said she believed that the pope's call for a stronger dialogue between Christians and Muslims could bear important results.

"When we have this dialogue, we will have trust and we won't be afraid," Ms. Can, also a member of the Turkish Islamic Committee, said after the meeting. "With the dialogue, terrorism will be finished."

In the meeting, Mr. Cakir delivered a brief address before the pope spoke, also focusing on the need for more exchanges between Christianity and Islam.

"If we can continue to coexist in dialogue, it will send a signal that the theory of a 'clash of cultures' is baseless," he said. "The more religious and cultural communities can learn about one another, the more they will realize that there is no reason for hostility."

Mr. Cakir also touched briefly on an issue that has been a point of contention among some Muslims and Benedict, saying, "The process of Turkey's accession to the European Union is also an important occasion, one that should be judged in this context."

Before being chosen as pope, the man who was then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said in an interview last year that he opposed Turkey's inclusion to the European Union, saying that Turkey, as the seat of the Ottoman Empire, had always been "in permanent contrast to Europe."

Before becoming pope in April of this year, Cardinal Ratzinger was aligned to the wing of the church more skeptical toward Islam, seeing it in competition with Christianity in many places - Africa, Asia and, to some extent, in Europe - as church attendance dropped and the number of Muslim immigrants rose on the continent. As he did before becoming pope, Benedict has spoken often about the need for Europe to renew its sense of Christian roots.

As pope, however, he has made interreligious dialogue a cornerstone of his papacy and has been clear to say that he did not believe that terror attacks were specifically "anti-Christian," as a leaked early version of a Vatican press release condemning the bombings in London had stated.

At the same time, he appears to have retained some degree of skepticism. When asked by reporters last month if he believed Islam was a religion of peace, he said: "Certainly it has elements that favor peace, as it has other elements."

His meeting on Saturday seemed aimed at speaking to the elements favoring peace.

"I am certain that I echo your own thoughts when I bring up as one of our concerns the spread of terrorism," he said. "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. Those who instigate 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."

On Saturday, the day before he returns to the Vatican, the pope paid courtesy calls on German political leaders, including Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel, the Christian Democrat who is challenging him in elections next month.

"We are very proud to have a German pope," said Ms. Merkel, the daughter of a Protestant clergyman.

On Saturday evening, the pope also led a vigil in a field outside of Cologne, in preparation for a huge Mass with young Catholics on Sunday that is expected to draw 800,000 or more worshipers from more than 190 countries.

"The church is like a human family, but at the same it is also the great family of God, through which he establishes an overarching communion and unity that embraces every continent, culture and nation," he said. "So we are glad to belong to this great family. We are glad to have brothers and friends all over the world."



Pope meets German Muslims in push for better ties

Aug 19, 6:43 PM (ET)

By Alexandra Hudson

COLOGNE, Germany (Reuters) - Pope Benedict meets leaders of Germany's mainly Turkish Muslim community on Saturday to stress the importance he places, like his predecessor, on closer ties with other faiths.

The Pope, on a four-day visit to his native Germany for a Catholic youth festival, has already met Jewish and Protestant groups, but his meeting with Muslims could be more strained given his opposition to Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

Before becoming Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said Muslim but secular Turkey should seek its future in an association of Islamic nations, not with the EU, which has Christian roots.

Turkey had always been "in permanent contrast to Europe," he said in an interview last year for France's Le Figaro magazine, adding that linking it to Europe would be a mistake.

Members of the Turkish Islamic Religious Authority, which operates many of the mosques in Germany, and Germany's central Islamic council will briefly meet the pontiff in the residence of the archbishop of Cologne.

Around 3.2 million Muslims live in Germany, two million of whom are of Turkish origin.

German politicians have begun to question the extent of their integration, with conservatives in particular saying multi-cuturalism has failed and parallel societies are rife.

Germany has also been forced to take a tougher line on Islamic extremists and so-called hate preachers since the Sept 11 attacks on the United States, in which three of the suicide pilots were students who had been living in Hamburg.

SOFTER APPROACH

Benedict said shortly after his election that he appreciated the growth of dialogue between Muslims and Christians both at local and international level.

One of the trickiest challenges he faces is maintaining friendly relations with other religions, which he upset in his previous job as Vatican doctrinal enforcer.

He has appeared to present a softer line since being elected head of the Catholic Church after the death in April of John Paul, for whom inter-religious dialogue was a main aim.

Benedict paid a historic visit to Cologne synagogue on Friday, becoming only the second pope known to have visited a synagogue.

"The Catholic Church is committed -- I reaffirm this again today -- to tolerance, respect, friendship and peace between all peoples, cultures and religions," he said.

Rafet Ozturk, one of those due to meet Benedict on Saturday, told the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung: "It would be of greater symbolic power if whilst visiting Cologne the Pope were also to visit a mosque."

Benedict will also meet German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, conservative opposition leader Angela Merkel -- a Protestant pastor's daughter who is widely favoured to take power after an election in September -- and local politicians.
Tags: benedict xvi, cultural, ecclesiology, theological notebook
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