- The Washington Times - Monday, April 25, 2005

ROME — Pope Benedict XVI predicted yesterday during a solemn pilgrimage to the shrine of Christianity’s first missionary that the Roman Catholic Church will enjoy a major revival in its third millennium.

The 78-year-old German-born pontiff received a enthusiastic welcome from thousands of monks, priests, pilgrims and citizens at the 4th century Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls on his first papal visit outside the Vatican since his inauguration on Tuesday.

He knelt in prayer for several minutes in front of the tomb of St. Paul who, according to the Bible, converted from Judaism after seeing a vision of Jesus on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians. He is said to have been beheaded in Rome in the year 67 after spreading the Gospel through the ancient world.

Delivering another of the powerful homilies that already have marked his pontificate, Benedict was interrupted by applause at the packed basilica nine times, with the warmest response evoked when he prayed to be able to match the missionary zeal of his predecessor, Polish-born John Paul II, who died April 2.

“Before our eyes is the example of my beloved and venerated predecessor, John Paul II, a missionary pope whose activity was so intense, as witnessed by the more than 100 apostolic voyages he made outside Italy,” the pope said.



“I wish that the Lord will give me a similar love, so that I may never rest in the face of the urgency for announcing the Gospel in the world today. The church is by its very nature missionary, its first duty is evangelization.”

Also yesterday, Benedict spoke for the first time with Muslim leaders and had an emotional meeting with several thousand pilgrims from his native Germany, offering to them his first comments on what he felt during the secret conclave that elected him as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

“As the trend in the ballots slowly made me realize that in a manner of speaking the guillotine would fall on me, I started to feel quite dizzy,” he said in German with a smile. “I thought that I had done my life’s work and could now hope to live out my days in peace.

“I told the Lord with a deep conviction, ‘Don’t do this to me. You have younger and better ones who could take up this great task with a totally different energy and with different strength.’

“Evidently this time he didn’t listen to me … so in the end, all I could do was say yes. I am trusting in God, and I am trusting in you, dear friends.”

Earlier, Benedict told Muslim leaders that he wanted to continue building “bridges of friendship” that could foster peace in the world. The world is marked by conflicts, but longs for peace, he said.

“Yet peace is also a duty to which all peoples must be committed, especially those who profess to belong to religious traditions. Our efforts to come together and foster dialogue are a valuable contribution to building peace on solid foundations.”

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