Pope Benedict XVI urged Muslim leaders to join Christians to help defeat the intolerance which he said was at the root of the terrorist violence seeking to poison ties between the two religions.
"We must eliminate intolerance and violence from our hearts"
At a gathering of Germany's Muslim officials, the leader of the Catholic Church on Saturday decried the "cruel fanaticism" of terrorism and called out to Muslims to join Christians in trying to combat its spread.
"I am certain that I echo your own thoughts when I bring up as one of our concerns the spread of terrorism," he said in the most extensive remarks on terrorism so far during his four-month papacy.
"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 told the 20 Muslim leaders, including three women, gathered in Cologne to meet with him.
It was his first major address to Muslim leaders since becoming pope and Benedict chose a straightforward and forceful language to underscore the immediacy of the issue. He did not mention specific attacks and responsible terrorist parties nor did he refer directly to suicide bombings, but it appeared significant that he chose a Muslim audience for his remarks on terrorism.
"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," he said, admonishing the religions of the world to work together to prevent terrorism. If they do not, he warned, the world will be exposed to "the darkness of a new barbarism."
Stressing inter-religious dialogue
Benedict XVI visits the Cologne Synagogue
The 78-year-old Benedict, who met with Jewish leaders in a Cologne synagogue on Friday and warned against the development of new forms of anti-Semitism, has made inter-religious relations one of the goals of his papacy. He has refrained from referring to the recent terror attacks in London as "anti-Christian" and has instead condemned them "acts against humanity."
His speech on Saturday was given in the same vein, stressing that all believers had to do their part in fighting terror: "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."
Nadeem Elyas, head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany
Nadeem Elyas, head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, echoed the pope's message of reconciliation in his speech: "The Islamic world also needs to recognize its historic guilt and prepare for a new constructive beginning."
"Terrorism is the common enemy of Christians and Muslims," he said and added that he hoped the meeting would serve as a "motivation for the individual believers in the churches and in the mosques to participate in a positive dialogue." He regretted that all too often, "both sides lacked the courage and the trust" to reach out to one another.
A better understanding and tolerance needs to be installed through education, Elyas said. Christians and Muslims share many topics of common interest such as the loss of moral orientation among youth and the increasing absence of religion in young people's lives, he pointed out.
Duty of religious teachers
The pope agreed and stressed the duty Islamic teachers had in forming young people. "You 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.
Early in the day, the pope was reported to have told German politicians he was in favor of introducing Islamic instruction into the German school curriculum as an equal to the currently Catholic and Protestant religion courses provided. When the classes are offered in German in the schools, the instruction
is conducted by state-trained teachers with material authorized by state educational authorities.
At the moment only three federal states offer Islam as an official school religion course, leaving the majority of the country's 3.2 million Muslims to turn to private (non-state supervised) Koran schools for religious education. Several German bishops have called for placing Islam on an equal footing with Christianity in schools as a means to help integrate Muslim children and control fundamentalist teaching.