.- Pope Benedict XVI addressed the issue of terrorism head on in his first meeting with 10 of Germany’s Muslim community leaders Saturday. He also reaffirmed his commitment to work toward improved relations between Christians and Muslims, which are “vital.” The 6 p.m. meeting with Muslim leaders was held at the archbishop’s residence, where the Pope is staying during his four-day trip. Germany has about three million Muslims, mostly of Turkish descent.
“I am certain that I echo your own thoughts when I bring up as one of our concerns the spread of terrorism,” the pontiff said.
Terrorists, he said, “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 described terrorism as “a perverse and cruel decision, which shows contempt for the sacred right to life and undermines the very foundations of all civil society.”
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, “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 acknowledged that relations between Christians and Muslims “have not always been marked by mutual respect and understanding.
“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,” he continued. “The lessons of the past must help us to avoid repeating the same mistakes. “We must seek paths of reconciliation and learn to live with respect for each other’s identity.”
The Pope said an important way to ensure this is to defend religious freedom and respect for minorities.
“Interreligious 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.”
Reaching out to Muslims, Jews and Christians of other denominations has been one of the main themes of Pope Benedict’s first foreign trip
The Pope met with Jewish community leaders in Germany’s 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 Saturday’s vigil and papal mass Sunday morning.