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Crusades Apology 900 Years Later
By SALAM ABUMARAQ
JERUSALEM (AP) - To most, the Crusades are ancient history.
Not to Prince Albrecht zu Castell-Castell, a descendant of one of the Christian knights who nearly a millennium ago conquered Jerusalem and massacred Muslims and Jews in the name of God.
On Thursday, the German aristocrat with white hair and ruddy cheeks finally got a chance to apologize to descendants of the Muslim warrior Saladin for his ancestor's crimes, which he said have burdened his conscience for years.
Castell-Castell was one of dozens of Western Christians who delivered apologies to Israel's chief rabbi, the top Muslim cleric and anyone in the streets of Jerusalem who would listen.
Thursday marked the 900th anniversary of the Crusaders' conquest of Jerusalem on July 15, 1099.
In the runup to the date, about 500 Christians from Europe, Australia and the United States joined a so-called Reconciliation Walk, setting out three years ago from Cologne, Germany, where the first Crusade was launched in 1096, and tracing the path of the Crusaders to the Holy Land.
In Jerusalem, the Christians held hands as they sang and prayed Thursday outside the walls of the Old City. Wandering through the cobblestone streets, they visited shops and handed out pamphlets with apologies in Hebrew and Arabic.
Afterwards, the group separated; some met with Israel's chief rabbi, Meir Israel Lau, at the Great Synagogue, and others with the top Muslim cleric in the city, Mufti Ikrema Sabri.
``We are deeply sorry for the atrocities committed by our forefathers,'' read the framed message handed to both. ``Where our forefathers were driven by hatred and prejudice, we wish to express love and solidarity.''
During the Crusades, which lasted from the 11th through the 13th century, tens of thousands of Muslims and Jews were killed. The Roman Catholic Crusaders also wrested control of Christian holy sites from their Eastern Orthodox stewards.
Lau, a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust, said he was not sure he had the mandate to accept the apology, but welcomed it nonetheless. ``Better late than never,'' he said.
Among the marchers was John Strobole, 74, a retired U.S. Air Force pilot from Chico, Calif. ``I grew up believing that the Crusades were a fine thing, and I was shocked when I learned of the massacres they carried out among the Muslims, the Jews and Eastern Orthodox Christians,'' he said.
At the mufti's, Muslim officials introduced the visitors to Amin Maraka and Mousa Sider, descendants of the Muslim conquerer Saladin, who retook Jerusalem in 1187.
Castell-Castell's interest was piqued. He began speaking to the two elderly Palestinian men in German, with his granddaughter translating into English and a Palestinian woman translating from English into Arabic.
The prince, wearing a white Reconciliation Walk T-shirt, introduced himself as the descendant of Count Ludwig who came to the Holy Land in 1228. Then, with his hand on his heart, he apologized. ``I have borne the burden of my ancestors,'' he said.
The descendants of Saladin accepted, and quickly brought up the Palestinians' modern struggle for independence. Asking the prince to take their message back to Europe, they said: ``We must be together always, not trying to crush others.''