Benedict uses meeting with Muslims to condemn terrorism
Pope tells youth: 'only from God does true revolution come'
NCR Rome correspondent John L. Allen Jr. is in Cologne, Germany. NCRonline.org will post daily reports from World Youth Day through Aug. 21. Bookmark this page or check back with NCRonline.org to read more coverage of this international Catholic event.
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
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.
|Read more NCR coverage of World Youth Day|
Report #4: Do-it-yourself religion 'cannot ultimately help us,' pope tells youth. Posted Aug. 21, 12:23 p.m.
Correspondent's Notebook #4: WYD 'rehabilitates' Joseph Ratzinger; Pope and teacher; Meeting with seminarians; Diversity among youth; WYD liturgical styles; Some ripples of dissent. Posted Aug. 21, 12:23 p.m.
Report #3: Benedict uses meeting with Muslims to condemn terrorism. Posted Aug. 20, 12:54 p.m. Updated at 4:56 p.m.
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. Posted Aug. 20, 12:54 p.m.
Report #2: Benedict acknowledges progress, challenges in Catholic-Jewish relations; Also meets with Catholic seminarians, German Protestants. Posted Aug. 19, 12:19 p.m.
Correspondent's Notebook #2: The pope at the synagogue; Assessing Benedict so far; The Magi pilgrims; On the papal plane; Some snags in logistics. Posted Aug. 19, 12:19 p.m.
Report #1: Picking up where John Paul II left off. Posted Aug. 18, 2:35 p.m.
Correspondent's Notebook #1: Who attends World Youth Day?; Benedict arrives; Condolences to Taizé; WYD trivia and Americans in Cologne; Visa problems; Security issues; Comic relief. Posted Aug. 18, 2:35 p.m.
"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.
Editor's Note: Also read Allen's Correspondent's Notebook for today.
August 20, 2005, National Catholic Reporter