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Last Updated: Friday, 7 September 2007, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
Pope honours Austrian Jewish dead
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI prayed in front of the memorial
Pope Benedict XVI has begun a three-day visit to Austria by paying silent tribute to the victims of the Nazi Holocaust at a memorial in Vienna.

The Pope said his visit was an expression of "sadness, repentance and friendship" towards the Jewish people.

The pontiff, brought up in the German province of Bavaria, will also visit a Catholic shrine to the Virgin Mary.

The Vatican says the Pope is travelling as a pilgrim but correspondents say his trip is akin to a state visit.

It is the Pope's seventh foreign trip in the past two years and comes after a week of high-profile meetings with leaders including Israeli President Shimon Peres and Syrian Vice President Faruq al-Shara.

Deep roots

The pontiff was accompanied at the Vienna memorial by the city's chief rabbi, Paul Chaim Eisenberg.

The men stood in silent tribute before a stone memorial to the 65,000 Viennese Jews who perished in Nazi death camps, and others who died in earlier purges.

Austrian Archbishop Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn said the Pope's silence during the ceremony "will say more than words".

The BBC's David Willey, in Rome, says the Church has deep roots in Austria, but it is suffering from a growing number of defections.

Almost one third of Austrian Catholics have left the Church since the late Pope John Paul II visited Austria in 1983, he says.

Cardinal Schoenborn said a key goal of the Pope's visit was to encourage faith "in a time when many are saying that faith has no meaning and is unreasonable".

The Austrian Catholic Church has been shaken by widely-reported sex scandals involving two high-ranking prelates in recent years.

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