Pope John Paul II completed a 2-1/2-day trip to Germany by crossing the former “death strip” that divided Berlin during the Cold War and urging listeners to make all necessary sacrifices to preserve freedom in Germany and Europe.
“No one can escape their personal responsibility for freedom,” the pope told a crowd massed at the foot of Berlin’s historic Brandenburg Gate, a monument defiled by the Nazis with their torchlight parades, later walled off by the Communists of East Germany, but now reopened and seen as a symbol of German unification.
The listeners closest to the pope cheered, chanted “Alleluia!” and waved their hats in the air, even as he urged them on to greater sacrifices and responsibilities. But farther back, beyond police lines, about 2,000 boisterous demonstrators tried to drown out the pontiff’s words by yelling and blowing whistles.
The pope’s address on freedom, delivered in German, capped a weekend in which he held up two German priests as role models of human conduct in the face of tyranny but also lamented the failure of most Roman Catholics to fight the Nazi dictatorship when it counted.
Pope John Paul beatified the priests, Bernhard Lichtenberg and Karl Leisner, both of whom stood up to the Nazis and were sent to concentration camps.
“Although many priests and lay people opposed this regime of terror … they were still too few,” the pope said in a meeting Sunday afternoon with senior officials of the German Jewish community.
The pope also caused a minor stir when he omitted certain references, present in prepared texts of his speeches, to the Catholic Church’s resistance of the Nazis. Jews have long argued that the Vatican didn’t do enough during the Nazi years to stop the roundup and execution of Europe’s Jews.
Despite earlier rumors that Pope John Paul might be planning a major outreach to the Protestant church on this trip - Germany being the cradle of the Reformation and 1996 being the 450th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther - he said there were still differences between the two branches of Christianity.
The pope did call for a synod of all Roman Catholic bishops in Europe, to discuss how the church should prepare for the next millennium. No date was set. The last such synod was convened in 1991, to discuss the church’s response to the end of communism.
The pope looked tired by the end of his weekend in Germany, but he continued to exhibit a dignity that contrasted sharply with the rowdiness of the demonstrators who took to the streets of Berlin on Sunday.
Some yelled, “Go to hell!” at Pope John Paul as his “Popemobile” wheeled toward the Brandenburg Gate, while others hurled bags of red paint or made rude gestures.
One woman ran into the street dressed in nothing but a pair of boots, but police dragged her away.