VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In his first meeting with representatives of other Christian communities and of other religions, Pope Benedict XVI pledged his pontificate would be marked by dialogue to promote truth and serve humanity.
"I assure you that the Church wants to continue building bridges of friendship with the followers of all religions, in order to seek the true good of every person and of society as a whole," he said.
The pope held an audience April 25 for the 70 Christian representatives, seven Muslim delegates and 17 Buddhist representatives who had attended his April 24 installation. Jewish representatives missed the meeting because it was held during their Passover observance.
Introducing the delegates, Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told Pope Benedict they all offered prayers for his ministry, which includes "a special responsibility for the promotion of unity among all Christians (and) for the advancement of understanding and friendship among the followers of the world religions for the building of peace among all peoples."
In remarks to the Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant delegates, Pope Benedict said their prayers and presence at the April 8 funeral of Pope John Paul II was a "tribute of sympathy and affection" that "went well beyond a simple act of ecclesial courtesy."
"Much progress was made during the years of his pontificate, and your participation in the mourning of the Catholic Church over his death demonstrated how true and great is the common passion for unity," he said.
Pope Benedict said the Lord has made divided Christians increasingly aware of the importance of unity among them.
"We all feel urged and encouraged to proclaim Christ and his message to the world, which often appears today to be troubled and restless, unthinking and indifferent," he said.
The pope told the Christian delegates, "I strongly feel the need to reaffirm the irreversible commitment" of the Catholic Church to pursuing the search for Christian unity.
"The path toward the full communion desired by Jesus for his disciples requires a concrete docility to that which the Spirit is saying to the churches," he said, as well as "courage, sweetness, strength and hope."
The search for unity must be founded in prayer, Pope Benedict said.
Christians must recognize that Christ is at work among them, sowing feelings of friendship, healing past wounds and "teaching us to live with a greater attitude of dialogue in harmony with the commitment that belongs to those who carry his name."
Pope Benedict offered special thanks to the Muslim delegates from Gambia, Iran and Italy and said, "I express my appreciation for the growth of dialogue between Muslims and Christians, both at the local and international level."
"The world in which we live," he said, "is often marked by conflicts, violence and war, but it earnestly longs for peace, peace which is above all a gift from God, peace for which we must pray without ceasing."
Pope Benedict told the Muslim and Buddhist leaders that all who profess a religious faith must be committed to peacemaking.
"It is therefore imperative to engage in authentic and sincere dialogue, build on respect for the dignity of every human person, created, as we Christians firmly believe, in the image and likeness of God," he said.
The pope asked members of all religions and "all who seek the truth with a sincere heart" to work together and to commit themselves to promoting "understanding, respect and love" among all peoples.
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