NEW YORK - THE trip to the United States by Pope Benedict XVI will be spiritual rather than political, but the issue of terrorism and controversial methods used by the US government in the fight against it are expected to figure prominently during the journey.
The pope, whose six-day visit to the United States will begin in Washington on Tuesday, will pray for 'the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all'.
Pope Benedict is to meet President George W. Bush at the White House and address the UN General Assembly during the trip.
While in New York, he will also address the pedophile scandals that have rocked the US Catholic Church in recent years.
The pope, who will turn 81 on Wednesday, will hold an open-air mass in each of the two cities.
In New York, where the pontiff will stay from next Friday through Sunday, he will make a pilgrimage to Ground Zero, the former site of the twin towers of the World Trade Center destroyed during the September 11, 2001, attacks.
'The pope's visit is very important for families like myself who had never had any recovery of my loved one,' Sally Regenhard, who lost a son during the attacks, said. 'Ground Zero is a burial place for over 1,100 who have never ever been recovered. Their remains are still in and around Ground Zero.'
Like his predecessor, the late Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly condemned wars and other forms of violence.
'As early as during his first apostolic trip in August 2005 to Germany, Benedict XVI called on Muslims of the entire world to join Christians in the fight against terrorism, which he described as a planetary phenomenon,' said journalist and writer Bernard Lecomte, who is the author of a biography of Benedict XVI.
'This is how he deepened a rapprochement of Catholics with other religions, notably Islam.' he added. 'He recognises that this is the only way to fight violence.'
Acting from this perspective, the pontiff has accepted an invitation by Rabbi Arthur Schneier to visit a New York synagogue on the eve of Passover.
'I have spent 40 years of my life promoting dialogue and human rights,' Mr Schneier said. 'I founded in 1965 the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, which proclaims that 'a crime committed in the name of religion is the greatest crime against religion''.
The rabbi continued: 'I lost my family in the Shoah. I do not want to see this tragedy happen again to any group - Catholics, Jewish or Muslims.' 'What changed since September 11, 2001, is the era,' adds Lecomte. 'The problem for the Catholic leader is that terrorism is very often associated with Islamic extremism.'
'One tends to forget the terrorist acts perpetrated in the past decades by the Basque separatist organization ETA, the IRA in Northern Ireland, or by the Colombian FARC rebels.'
While Benedict XVI condemns terrorism, he does not approve all the methods employed by Washington to combat it.
Like John Paul II, he is opposed to the war in Iraq. He emphasises human dignity and condemns torture as human rights organisations blast certain interrogation methods employed by the CIA, notably its 'waterboarding' technique.
'The Catholic Church condemns use of torture as a means of getting the truth,' said in 2005 Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. 'Torture is a humiliation of a human being, and, therefore, the church does not accept it.' -- AFP