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Catholic World News News Feature

Pope Overcomes Anger, Hate To Preach Reconciliation June 24, 1996

BERLIN, Germany (CWN) - Pope John Paul overcame some of the strongest expressions of hatred the 76-year-old Pontiff has ever faced in his reign, as he journeyed to Germany this weekend with a message of peace, reconciliation, and sacrifice.

The Holy Father had red paint thrown at his vehicle, gays and lesbians cavorted in a virulent counter-protest while shouting lewd slogans, and opponents of the Church's teachings on sexuality distributed condoms through the crowd that had come to see the Pope.

The Pope's visit began on Friday in Paderborn, the first visit by a pope to the city since Pope Leo III met with Charlemagne in 799 to found the Holy roman Empire. German President Roman Herzog greeted the Holy Father, emphasizing the country's current good relations between Catholics and Protestants.

In a homily at a military airbase outside Paderborn on Saturday, the Holy Father praised Catholic Germans who sacrificed their lives during the Nazi regime, including Blessed Edith Stein, a Carmelite nun who had converted from Judaism and died in Auschwitz.

Later, at a meeting with Protestant leaders, the Holy Father dispelled speculation that he would lift mutual censures put in place by Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation 450 years ago. "Fundamental problems about Luther's views on faith, scriptures, tradition and the church have not yet been sufficiently clarified," the Pontiff said. "We certainly cannot overlook his personal limits, despite his attention to the Word of God and his determination to follow the correct path of faith."

On Sunday, the Pope beatified two anti-Nazi priests during a Mass at Berlin's Olympic Stadium. The Holy Father beatified Blessed Bernhard Lichtenberg and Blessed Karl Leisner, two anti-Nazi priests who died after being persecuted by the Third Reich. In his prepared homily, the Pope mentioned that while he was in a Nazi prison in 1943, Bl. Lichtenberg received a letter of support and comfort from Pope Pius XII, who reigned during the war.

The reference was subtle rebuke to the many critics of the Church's actions during World War II, who have said Pius XII mutely stood by as Nazis marched Jews off to extermination. Church historians point to the conversion to Catholicism of the chief rabbi of Rome after the war as a sign that the Church was acknowledged as helping the oppressed during the war.

The Holy Father also declared that an all European synod of bishops would be convened to assess the situation of the Church as it approaches the year 2000. "From this famous city, which very intensively experienced the fate of European history in this century, I would like to announce to the entire Church my intention to convene a second special assembly for Europe of the synod of bishops," he said. No date for the synod was announced.

During the Pope's procession to the Brandenburg Gate, symbol of the Cold War and former site of the Berlin Wall, hundreds of protesters in the crowd of thousands hurled venomous insults and pejoratives as well as paint bombs and condoms. Hecklers jeered and made obscene gestures as he called for freedom and respect for human rights in Europe and the world. "The Church's history is a history of hatred. There were no Jews to put the blame on so they found gays and lesbians," declared gay activist Stephan Kring. "All we can ask of the Pope is to leave us alone."

The Holy Father returned to Rome late on Sunday at the end of his visit.

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