COLOGNE, Germany (AP) – Pope Benedict XVI went before an Islamic audience Saturday and delivered the strongest rebuke of terrorism of his papacy, asking Muslims to join Christians in trying to combat its spread and “turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism” behind it.

The 78-year-old pope later traveled in his popemobile to the rain-soaked Marienfeld, a former coal mine near the town of Kerpen outside Cologne for an outdoor evening service as part of the four-day Catholic youth festival.

Hundreds of thousands of high-spirited pilgrims roared their approval as Benedict arrived in his mother-of-pearl Mercedes-Benz, waving and smiling as he greeted the crowds, estimated at some 800,000. Overhead, as if on cue, storm clouds that had threatened to drench the faithful began melting away, unveiling a bright blue sky.

Before giving his homily, Benedict dedicated a huge bell at the foot of the altar to his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, the man who originated World Youth Day as a Roman Catholic festival. As it tolled, a choir performed a slow hymn while the crowd sang along.

The meeting with Muslim officials in Germany was part of Benedict’s outreach to non-Catholics during his visit to achieve common positions on social issues and world peace. Germany has some 3.5 million Muslims, one of the highest figures in western Europe.

The pope said Muslim leaders had a “great responsibility” in properly educating younger generations.

“I am certain that I echo your own thoughts when I bring up as one of our concerns the spread of terrorism,” Benedict told the Muslim leadership, mainly Turks.

“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,” he said.

The pope spoke of terrorism striking in “various parts of the world” but did not mention any specific attacks, assess responsibility or speak directly about suicide bombings. It appeared significant, however, that he chose a Muslim audience for his remarks on terrorism as many recent attacks have been blamed on Islamic extremists.

“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,” Benedict said.

Going into Saturday’s meeting, the pope had been cautious about making any links between terrorism and Islam, rejecting the idea that the world faced a “clash of civilizations” and reportedly overruling an aide who wanted to brand the deadly July 7 London bombings as anti-Christian.

But in warning that the world risked exposure to “the darkness of a new barbarism,” Benedict stressed Saturday that Islamic leaders must “guide Muslim believers and train them in the Islamic faith.”

“Teaching is the vehicle through which ideas and convictions are transmitted. Words are highly influential in the education of the mind. You, therefore, have a great responsibility for the formation of the younger generation,” he said.

Benedict said that by working together, Catholics and Muslims could “turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism that endangers the lives of so many people and hinders progress toward world peace.”

Ridan Cakir, president of the Turkish Islamic Union, said the participants shared the pope’s position. “With this common platform, we are able together to fight terrorism,” he said at a news conference afterward.

The meeting came a day after Benedict visited a Cologne synagogue to meet with Jewish leaders and also met with Protestant and Orthodox Christian representatives.

Israel sharply criticized the Vatican last month after Benedict condemned terrorist attacks in Britain, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey but did not mention a suicide bombing in Israel that killed five Israelis.

In his meeting with Muslim leaders, Benedict also alluded to another of his themes – the need for reciprocity in religious freedom for Christians and other minorities in some Islamic countries. He didn’t name any but said the defense of religious freedom “is a permanent imperative and respect for minorities is a clear sign of true civilization.”

Earlier Saturday, Benedict paid a courtesty visit to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his challenger in Sept. 18 parliamentary elections, Angela Merkel.

Merkel, leader of the Christian Democratic Union and the daughter of a Protestant minister, said, “It was great to meet a German pope on German soil.”

Schroeder, who also is Protestant, as are about a third of Germans, had no public comment.

Officials said people began arriving at Marienfeld as early as 9 a.m. to stake out their places, unfurl tarps to cover the wet ground and await the pope. Pilgrims were given candles, which they lit as darkness fell.

One person broke out of the crowd as the pope arrived and was tackled by several security guards about 150 feet from Benedict’s armored vehicle. Security officials at the vigil decined to comment on the incident.

In his homily, Benedict told the pilgrims that only religion can truly make people free.

“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,” he said. “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?”

Many pilgrims at the vigil were expected to spend the night under the open sky to attend Sunday morning’s concluding Mass celebrated by Benedict.



Associated Press writers Matt Moore and Melissa Eddy in Kerpen contributed to this report.

AP-ES-08-20-05 1644EDT


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