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Pope visits monastery where Martin Luther lived as a monk, meets Lutheran leaders
ERFURT, Germany (AP) ' Pope Benedict XVI made a landmark visit Friday to the land of Martin Luther, joining Germany's Protestant churches in an Erfurt chapel where Luther, then a Catholic monk, prayed before launching his schismatic protest against Rome.
Benedict praised Luther for his "deep passion and driving force" in his beliefs, but he didn't announce any concrete steps to achieve greater unity among Christians as some had hoped.
German Lutheran leader Nikolaus Schneider told the pope "it is time to take real steps for reconciliation" and suggested Catholics join Protestants in marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.
The pontiff started the day in Berlin with a private Mass and meetings with leaders from Germany's Muslim community. He met with Jewish leaders on Thursday, before celebrating a Mass in Berlin that attracted some 70,000 faithful from across the nation and beyond.
In the closed-door meeting, Benedict told more than a dozen Muslim leaders that he understood the "great importance" Muslims placed on the religious dimension of life and emphasized the importance of values shared by both the religions in an increasingly secularized society.
Aiman Mazyek, the chairman of Germany's Central Council of Muslims, said he welcomed Benedict's message of increased Muslim-Christian dialogue as an "important and friendly sign."
In Erfurt, the pope concentrated on issues of Germany's divided past, both spiritual and political.
Luther was ordained in this town in eastern Germany. He lived in Erfurt's Augustine monastery as a monk before his protest against the Roman Catholic Church in 1517.
Also a professor of theology, he was excommunicated by the pope for disputing church tenets and sparked the Protestant Reformation that led to the creation of the Lutheran church. The split among German Christians remains a point of dispute to this day.
Some Catholics and Lutherans have called for a joint commission to examine the Reformation and Luther's excommunication.
After a morning in the city, Benedict is to travel to a small chapel nestled deep in the former East Germany, where he will honor those Catholics who helped resist communist rule.
Benedict's visit also has drawn protesters, many opposed to the Catholic church's views on homosexuality, abortion and other issues. About 9,000 people protested in downtown Berlin on Thursday and more protests were planned in Erfurt.
David Rising contributed to this story from Berlin.