JOHN YDSTIE, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm John Ydstie.
Pope Benedict XVI told Islamic leaders in Germany today that they had a duty to steer young people away from terrorism. The pope met with religious leaders from Germany's top Turkish community as part of his visit to his homeland for this year's World Youth Day festival for young Catholics. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is with the pontiff in Cologne.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI reporting:
YDSTIE: Sylvia, this sounds like a pretty blunt message that the pope delivered today. What exactly did he say to the Muslim religious leaders?
POGGIOLI: Benedict said the world would be exposed to the darkness of a new barbarism unless religions work together to combat terrorism, which he called a cruel fanaticism. He said those who instigate terrorist attacks want to poison relations between faiths and use all means, including religion, to prevent coexistent and mutual respect.
The pope focused in particular on the duty of Islamic leaders in educating young people. He said teaching is the vehicle through which ideas and convictions are transmitted, and addressing the leaders directly, he said, `You have a great responsibility for the formation of the younger generation.'
YDSTIE: A very blunt message, and how did the Muslim leaders react?
POGGIOLI: Well, in their prepared statements, two Muslim leaders of Turkish origin focused primarily on interfaith dialogue and the need for mutual respect between religions and the issue of terrorism was somewhat secondary. But one leader, Nadeem Elyas, head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, called for a mea culpa by both the Islamic and Christian worlds for what he called the black chapter of our common history. He said this is necessary for Christians and Muslims to fight their common enemy: terrorism.
Now today's meeting came at a very crucial time because there's an increasing suspicion between Europeans and the 15 to 20 million Muslims living in Europe, and Europeans have begun asking out loud whether the multicultural ideal has failed and whether it's possible to integrate Muslims into European societies.
YDSTIE: Of course, before Benedict became pope when he was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he often remarked on the Christian roots of Europe. Does this message today complicate his outreach to the Muslim community?
POGGIOLI: Well, you know, in fact, last year, as then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he spoke out against Turkey's membership in the European community, saying it had always been in permanent contrast to Europe, but as pope, he's already softened his language somewhat. For example, he reportedly overruled an aide who wanted to brand the July 7th London bombings as anti-Christian and instead he called them acts against humanity. And Benedict has taken pains to reject the theory of a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. And he's made it clear that on many issues dear to him--the decline of family values and the increased secularization of the West--Islam can be a powerful ally in the pope's campaign against what he calls the dictatorship of relativism.
But today the pope also stressed another issue that's very dear to him, and that's the concept of reciprocity which means recognition of religious freedom for Christians and other minorities in some majority Islamic countries. The Vatican has long complained of increased harassment of Christians in the Middle East, but most of all, Benedict wants equal religious rights. For example, if Saudi Arabia can spend millions to finance mosques in the West, why are Christians banned by law from building churches in Saudi Arabia.
YDSTIE: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Cologne.
Thanks very much, Sylvia.
POGGIOLI: Thank you, John.
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