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Posted April 25, 2005 at 9:17 p.m. CDT

Benedict calls for more dialogue with other churches, religions
Reactions to his 'bridge building' is mixed

By Stacy Meichtry

Pope Benedict XVI drew a mixed reaction from Muslim and ecumenical leaders Monday after delivering an address that renewed his call for increased dialogue and "bridge building" between faiths.

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"I express my appreciation for the growth of dialogue between Muslims and Christians, both at the local and international level," he told the delegations of religious leaders that also had attended his inaugural Mass on Sunday. Benedict neglected to mention Muslims in his inaugural address while referring to the "Jewish People" as "brothers and sisters" of Catholics united by "a shared spiritual heritage."

"I assure you that the church wants to continue building bridges of friendship with the followers of all religions," Benedict said Monday.

Benedict also repeated his call for strengthening ties between Catholics and members of other Christian denominations.

The Associated Press reported that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who attended the meeting, was "encouraged by the way Pope Benedict went out of his way to underline the commitment to ecumenism."

But Benedict's attempts to reach out drew a measured response from his counterpart in the Russian Orthodox church.

"We don't know if that's going to affect (relations) with the Russian Orthodox church. The future will show," Interfax new agency quoted Patriarch Alexy II as saying. Metropolitan Kirill, a senior official in the Russian Orthodox church, attended the meeting with Benedict on Alexy's behalf.

Alexy ruled out the possibility of inviting Benedict to Russia in the near future, calling on the new pope to address the proselytizing of Orthodox followers by Catholic missionaries that he alleges went on during John Paul's reign. These accusations led Alexy to block John Paul from visiting Russia in 2004, ending the late pontiff's long-held dream to visit the country.

"There cannot be a visit for the sake of a visit. There cannot be a meeting purely for television cameras," Alexy said Monday.

Later in the evening, Benedict delivered a sermon at the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls, in which he called evangelization the church's "primary task."

Hundreds of Romans packed the basilica to hear the pontiff deliver an address to inaugurate his ministry to the diocese of Rome.

"For me this is a greatly desired trip, that I make in my name as well as in the name of the beloved Diocese of Rome," he told a crowd.

The German pontiff made no mention that his visit took place on Liberation Day -- an Italian holiday that commemorates Italy's liberation from Nazi occupiers. Benedict's enrollment in the Hitler Youth movement as a teenager riveted the media in the days following his selection to lead the church.

Earlier in the day, Benedict met with a group of German pilgrims who had come to Rome for his installment Mass.

"My roots are in Bavaria, and I'm still Bavarian as bishop of Rome," he told the crowd.

In a humorous tone, Benedict recounted the distress he felt at learning of his selection as Roman Catholicism's first German pope in centuries.

"As the trend in the ballots slowly made me realize that, in a manner of speaking, the guillotine would fall on me, I started to feel quite dizzy," he told the crowd in German.

Stacy Meichtry is a freelance journalist based in Rome. He is reporting and writing for NCR during this period of papal transition.

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