Source: AFP 

July 18, 2008, 9:35 pmPope Benedict XVI

SYDNEY (AFP) - Pope Benedict XVI warned Christian leaders Friday that the push to unite Christian churches was at a "critical juncture" and called on people of all religions to join together against violence.

The pontiff, leading hundreds of thousands of Catholics in World Youth Day celebrations in Australia, was speaking at separate meetings with leaders from other Christian denominations and other religions.

"I think you would agree that the ecumenical movement has reached a critical juncture," he told around 50 Christian clergy, as Anglicans met in Britain to avert a split over the ordination of women and gays.

"We must guard against any temptation to view doctrine as divisive and hence an impediment to the seemingly more pressing and immediate task of improving the world in which we live," he said.

The head of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics was speaking to senior clerics from denominations including the Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran and Uniting churches.

The Pope later told leaders from the Muslim, Jewish and other faiths that religion had a special role in maintaining peace and uniting people.

"A harmonious relationship between religion and public life is all the more important at a time when some people have come to consider religion as a cause of division rather than a force for unity," he said.

"In a world threatened by sinister and indiscriminate forms of violence, the unified voice of religious people urges nations and communities to resolve conflicts through peaceful means and with full regard for human dignity."

Muslim representative Sheikh Mohamadu Saleem of the National Council of Imams said the "whole of humanity will rejoice forever" if people of varying faiths worked together.

The Pope did not elaborate in his address to Christian leaders on what he saw as the critical juncture in the search for greater unity.

But his comments came as Anglican bishops from around the world gathered at Canterbury in England for a once-a-decade conference amid splits between liberal and conservative elements of the church.

Around 650 bishops were to attend the 20-day conference, with the issue of gays and women in the church expected to dominate.

After the meetings Friday, the Pope took part at the start of a "Stations of the Cross" re-enactment of the last days of Jesus Christ's life.

The dramatisation of the events central to Christian belief was held at some of Sydney's most famous sites including the Opera House and drew thousands of spectators over several hours, beginning in bright sunshine.

As night fell on the city, the crucifixion of Jesus was solemnly re-enacted at the former harbourside wharves where a day earlier the 81-year-old pontiff received a rapturous welcome from some 150,000 young Catholic pilgrims.

Earlier, police had moved seven activists from Broken Rites, a support group for victims of abuse by Catholic clergy, from outside St Mary's Cathedral where the Pope prayed at the start of the re-enactment.

"It's really shameful of the church to be doing this, to be moving people on. They're just stopping people from being heard," said protester John Ellis.

The Pope indicated on his way to Australia that he intended to make an apology for sex abuse, as he did in the United States in April, but this was later thrown into doubt by a Vatican official.

At an evening meeting with young people in rehabilitation, the Pope returned to the theme outlined on his opening address on Thursday in which he warned of the "false gods" of material possessions, possessive love and power.

"I wish to acknowledge your courage in choosing to turn back onto the path of life," he told them.

The World Youth Day celebrations, aimed at strengthening the faith of young Catholics, ends on Sunday with a papal mass which organisers hope will attract 500,000 people.

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