Pope Benedict XVI addressed Germany’s parliament from the historic Reichstag building in Berlin last Thursday, warning that politicians must not sacrifice ethics for power and evoking the Nazi excesses of his homeland as a lesson in history.
The pope spoke for 20 minutes in the Reichstag, which was torched in 1933 in an incident used by Hitler to strengthen his grip on power.
“We Germans know from our own experience” what happens when power is corrupted, Benedict said, describing Nazis as a “highly organized band of robbers, capable of threatening the whole world and driving it to the edge of the abyss.”
But he said even under the Nazi dictatorship resistance movements stuck to their beliefs at a great risk, “thereby doing a great service to justice and to humanity as a whole.”
He also urged all Germans not to ignore religion.
“Even today, there is ultimately nothing else we could wish for but a listening heart — the capacity to discern between good and evil, and thus to establish true law, to serve justice and peace,” he said.
After the speech, he met with a 15-member Jewish delegation, noting that it was in Berlin that the annihilation of European Jews was organized.
“The supposedly ‘almighty’ Adolf Hitler was a pagan idol, who wanted to take the place of the biblical God,” Benedict said according to a prepared text.
Flagging Christian influence in Europe was one of the themes of Benedict, who has often lamented that the continent is ignoring its Christian roots.
“We are witnessing a growing indifference to religion in society,” he said at a formal welcoming ceremony at the German president’s Bellevue palace. He called religion a foundation for a successful society and said its values were essential for freedom.
Benedict said the presidential palace, which was destroyed in World War II, was a reminder of German history.
“A clear look at the past, even at its dark pages, enables us to learn from it and to receive an impetus for the present,” the pope said.
Over the next four days, the pope has meetings with leaders of Germany’s Jewish and Muslim communities, three Masses, an ecumenical service with Lutheran church members and other meetings, and possibly meetings with victims abused by priests.