Pope Benedict XVI prayed Sunday for God to stop the “murderous hand” of terrorists, stepping up his condemnation of the recent attacks in Europe and the Middle East blamed on Islamic extremists.
At the same time, Benedict’s spokesman said the pope was placing immense importance on a scheduled meeting in Cologne, Germany, next month with members of Germany’s Muslim community.
The pope, who is traveling to Cologne for the church’s World Youth Day, added the meeting with Muslims to his itinerary after deciding to visit Cologne’s synagogue, clearly trying to make a statement about the need for dialogue among religions during his first foreign trip.
“It’s a very strong signal, that at the beginning of his pontificate, there is this desire for a dialogue among the three great monotheistic religions that are inspired by, and have reference to Abraham,” spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.
Benedict referred to the recent “abhorrent terrorist attacks” in Egypt, Britain, Turkey and Iraq during his noontime blessing delivered for the second Sunday in a row from his Alpine retreat in Italy’s northwestern Valle d’Aosta region, where he is vacationing.
“While we grant to divine goodness the dead, the wounded and their dear ones — victims of such acts that offend God and man — we invoke the Almighty to stop the murderous hand of those who, driven by fanaticism and hatred, commit such acts and ask him to convert their hearts and minds to reconciliation and peace,” Benedict said.
'Revive your roots'
Benedict also returned to a topic he has been emphasizing in his three months as pope: the need for Europeans to reaffirm the Christian roots of the continent.
He quoted Pope John Paul II as urging Europeans to “’return to yourselves. Discover your origins. Revive your roots. Revive those authentic values that made your history glorious and made your presence among other continents blessed.”’
Benedict said he wanted to send the same message to Europe’s youth during the World Youth Day ceremonies, which he will attend Aug. 18-21.
“Let us pray that the new generations, borrowing from Christ’s vital sap, know that they are part of a European society that is excited by a renewed humanism in which faith and reason cooperate in a fertile dialogue for the promotion of the man and the construction of an authentic peace,” he said.
Benedict has been in Les Combes since July 11 and is due to remain until July 28, when he will move to the papal summer retreat in Castel Gandolfo in the Alban hills south of Rome.
During his vacation, he is finishing a book he started three years ago, Navarro-Valls said. He would not say what the subject was, only to deny Italian media speculation that it focused on St. Benedict, a patron saint of Europe and a figure so close to the pope that he chose Benedict as his name.
Benedict also has been preparing the various speeches that he will deliver in Cologne and is working on his first encyclical, the spokesman said.
Benedict also has done some sightseeing. Earlier this week, he made an impromptu visit up Mont Blanc, posing for photographs with stunned tourists atop the Helbronner cable-car station, located in the snow 11,358 feet above sea level, Navarro-Valls said.