.- Pope Benedict XVI addressed the issue of terrorism head on in his first meeting with 10 of Germanyâs Muslim community leaders Saturday. He also reaffirmed his commitment to work toward improved relations between Christians and Muslims, which are âvital.â The 6 p.m. meeting with Muslim leaders was held at the archbishopâs residence, where the Pope is staying during his four-day trip. Germany has about three million Muslims, mostly of Turkish descent.
âI am certain that I echo your own thoughts when I bring up as one of our concerns the spread of terrorism,â the pontiff said.
Terrorists, he said, âevidently 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.â
He described terrorism as âa perverse and cruel decision, which shows contempt for the sacred right to life and undermines the very foundations of all civil society.â
He said believers must work together to eliminate all traces of hatred and intolerance, and oppose all manifestations of violence. In doing this, the Pope said, âwe will turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism that endangers the lives of so many people and hinders progress towards world peace.â
The Pope acknowledged that relations between Christians and Muslims âhave not always been marked by mutual respect and understanding.
âThe 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,â he continued. âThe lessons of the past must help us to avoid repeating the same mistakes. âWe must seek paths of reconciliation and learn to live with respect for each otherâs identity.â
The Pope said an important way to ensure this is to defend religious freedom and respect for minorities.
âInterreligious and intercultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra,â he said. âIt is in fact a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends.â
Reaching out to Muslims, Jews and Christians of other denominations has been one of the main themes of Pope Benedictâs first foreign trip
The Pope met with Jewish community leaders in Germanyâs oldest synagogue Friday. About 500 people were in the assembly to hear the Pope call for improved relations and more trust among Christians and Jews.
After his meeting with Muslim leaders, the Pope was to head to Marienfeld for the outdoor evening prayer and vigil, which is one of the highlights of World Youth Day. Some 407,000 pilgrims have registered for WYD, but almost double are expected for Saturdayâs vigil and papal mass Sunday morning.