Back to roots for Benedict XVI on papal trip to Germany By Jean-Baptiste Piggin
Deutsche Presse Agentur
Thursday August 31, 2006
By Jean-Baptiste Piggin, Hamburg- Though he is 79, Pope Benedict XVI has agreed to a gruelling schedule for the six days he is to spend in his native Germany, touring the places where he was born and worked, and preaching to hundreds of thousands at open-air masses. Strictly speaking, this is not a visit to Germany, but to Bavaria, a former kingdom on the north slope of the Alps with its own dialect, local folk customs and a weakening, but still fierce loyalty to the Catholic faith.
A stop of about half an hour in the little church in Marktl-am-Inn where the newborn Joseph Ratzinger was held over the baptismal font on April 16, 1927 is likely to be a dramatic high point of the visit.
However, Benedict in hardly likely to have poignant memories there, since the Ratzinger family permanently moved away from Marktl when he was two. Father Ratzinger was a gendarme who was often transferred.
Instead, Ratzinger will feel that he is coming home when he reaches Regensburg, the city where he spent some of his happiest years as a theology professor, where his brother lives and his parents are buried, and where he still owns a house.
Bavarians are immensely proud of their native son and are expected to turn out in the hundreds of thousands to see him at the masses in Munich and Regensburg or when he drives through crowds to other occasions in a glass-topped pope-mobile.
Police say they have not had to impose such tight security on Munich since a US presidential visit back in 1992.
In Germany, some 26 million out of a population of 80 million are registered Catholics, but only a fraction attend mass every Sunday and recruitment of clergy is so low that many parish priests must tend two or more churches, or priests must be imported from Poland.
The crowds still attend the great places of pilgrimage, above all Altoetting, where the pope will dedicate a new chapel and pray before a black-Madonna image of the Virgin Mary. But the dwindling number of the devout often complain that today's faith has shallow roots.
Liberal Catholics in Germany were often hostile to Ratzinger when he was a Vatican cardinal in charge of Catholic doctrine, but have warmed to him as pope after a faultless performance when he visited the German city of Cologne last year for a Catholic youth congress.
In a pre-visit interview with four German television journalists, the pope declined to condemn anybody, saying Christianity was not an accumulation of prohibitions, but a "positive option," and instead stressed his concern that Germany might lose the faith.
"My fundamental theme will be that we have to rediscover God," he said of the upcoming visit.
As an intellectual, Benedict reasons in words that can be difficult for ordinary Catholics to understand. But as pope, he has often used gestures, such as walking alone through the gates of Auschwitz Concentration Camp, to appeal to deeper feelings.
The Bavaria visit, coming only two months after the World Cup football tournament in Germany, where Germans rediscovered a non-threatening pride in their own nation, may well have its greatest impact when Catholics join in great crowds to pray with the pope.
Their fervour is likely to be ignited if the pope appeals to their sense of tradition. Instead of waving German flags, the faithful will wave the white and blue of Bavaria state.
Significant numbers of non-Catholics are expected to apply for advance tickets to attend these bonding events.
Winfried Roehmel of Munich archdiocese says visitors will be searched. "It will be like the public viewing sites during the World Cup where you were not allowed in with certain implements. But we don't expect brawls. The motivation to go to mass is different."
Police say their main challenge will instead be directing traffic so that hundreds of thousands of people can exit with the least delay, and catching pickpockets, who will regard a crowd of prayerful Catholics as a kind of paradise.
© 2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agenteur