By Niels Sorrells
Religion News Service
BERLIN (RNS) All faiths have to work together to stanch the tide of secularism sweeping the world, warned Pope Benedict XVI on Friday (Sept. 23) during the second day of a tour through his native Germany.
Benedict focused Friday on ecumenical meetings, including a service with Lutheran ministers in the city of Erfurt, where Protestant Reformer Martin Luther began to harbor his first doubts about Catholicism.
"The most urgent thing for ecumenicalism is, namely, that we can't allow the push of secularism to force us, almost without noticing, to lose sight of the major similarities that make us Christians, and which remain a gift and a challenge for us," the pope said.
The message in Germany, home to many Lutherans, was warmly received, though newspaper commentators said they had hoped for more concrete steps toward reconciliation, rather than just an exchange of ideas.
Also on Friday, the pope met with five victims of sexual abuse by priests and expressed "deep compassion and regret" about their suffering, The Associated Press reported.
Simon Rapp, federal chaplain of the Association of German Catholic Youth, said that the trip is, overall, going well.
"He is finding the right themes, trying to get people to think about faith," said Rapp.
But Rapp, whose group has urged the church to consider liberalizing reforms, noted that many of the sermons and speeches have been almost academic in nature, rather than the more concrete interests of many of today's Germans.
"I hope he finds some other themes," said Rapp. "It's not that he has to just take up every request from the people, but there has to be a sign that something is moving."
The trip is drawing interest across Germany, a country in which church membership and attendance is plunging, and where trust in the church has sunk following a decades-long child sex abuse scandal uncovered last year.
The pontiff's first major event, a Mass at Berlin's historic Olympic Stadium, drew a crowd of 61,000 Thursday night. A Mass Friday at the pilgrimage chapel of the town of Etzelsbach drew an estimated 90,000.
The Etzelsbach service was a reflection on the Virgin Mary. But most other speeches Friday kept the focus on the power of Christian cooperation and the need to fight secularism, topics to which Benedict often gravitates.
"The more the world moves away from God, the more clear it becomes that man, in the hubris of power, the void in his heart and in the longing for fulfillment and happiness, is losing ever more touch with his life," he preached during the Erfurt's service.
"That's why, during an ecumenical meeting, we shouldn't just be dismayed by the divisions and separation, but we should thank God for all he has done to retain our unity and what he continues to give us.
"And this thankfulness has to, at the same time, be readiness not to lose this gift of unity in the middle of a time of trials and dangers."
Earlier in the day, before departing Berlin, the pope also had a meeting with Muslims, continuing an ongoing dialogue between the two faiths.
On Saturday, Benedict is set to host a Mass in Erfurt before heading to Freiburg, which lies in the midst of the Catholic stronghold of Baden-Wuerttemberg.
As well as holding a vigil with Catholic youth, he will also meet several prominent Germans, including former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and representatives of the Orthodox Church.