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Benedict XVI Begins Historic Visit to Germany

Thursday, September 22, 2011 7:46 AM Comments (1)

Pope Benedict XVI has begun an historic first official visit to his homeland. 

Shepherd One landed shortly before 10.15 this morning at Berlin’s Tegel airport under sunny autumnal skies. 

The Holy Father was welcomed with full military honors and greeted at the airport by Germany’s President Christian Wulff, Chancellor Angela Merkel, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, president of the German Bishops Conference and other dignitaries. 

In his address (full text below) - the first of 17 during the intense four day visit - the Pope, standing on the lawns of Bellevue Castle, the official residence of the German President, laid out his aims for this historic trip with characteristic clarity.

“I have not come here primarily to pursue particular political or economic goals, as other statesmen rightly do,” he said, “but rather to meet people and to speak about God.” 

He addressed head on Germany’s deep-rooted secularism, outlining the importance of true freedom in both the public and private sphere. 

“We are witnessing a growing indifference to religion in society, which considers the issue of truth as something of an obstacle in its decision-making, and instead gives priority to utilitarian considerations,” the Holy Father said.

He explained how Germany has become what it is today thanks to the power of freedom – but a freedom not based on individualism, but rather “shaped by responsibility before God and before one another.” 

To stress the importance of religious freedom, he referred to Bishop Wilhelm von Ketteler, a German theologian and politician whose social teachings influenced Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum. “Just as religion has need of freedom, so also freedom has need of religion,” the 19th century bishop said.

The Pope also explained how liberty also requires using individual powers for the welfare of others – a principle, he said, not only true in private matters but also for society as a whole. “Society must give sufficient space for smaller structures to develop and, at the same time, must support them so that one day they will stand on their own,” he said.

“The fact that there are values which are not absolutely open to manipulation is the true guarantee of our freedom,” Benedict XVI explained. “The man who feels a duty to truth and goodness will immediately agree with this: freedom develops only in responsibility to a greater good.”

In his speech, President Wulff highlighted the important role the of Christian churches in German society. “In the face of ecological and economic crises, in the face of strife and injustice in the world, with its experience of rootlessness and personal insecurity, the yearning for meaning, here lies an opportunity and also precisely the great responsibility of churches and religious communities,” he said.

“That is why it’s so important the churches remain close to the people, that, despite their financial constraints and shortage of priests, they do not withdraw. What the Christian churches [achieve] in the care of the poor and weak in our country and all over the world, that is just great and essential for solidarity.”

The President, who is a divorced and remarried Catholic, also said he believed the Church’s compassion is “repeatedly challenged” by the brokenness of people’s lives, as well as issues to do with the role of the women and laity alongside priests. And he highlighted the divisions within the churches in this “ancestral land of the Reformation,” welcoming that the Church is in dialogue with the Protestant churches and that the Pope is to travel next to Erfurt with its close connections with Martin Luther.

This afternoon, the Pope will address the Germany parliament, meet members of the Jewish community, and celebrate an evening Mass in the Olympic Stadium. 

The Vatican has issued this summary of the Holy Father’s press conference with journalists aboard the papal plane.

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BENEDICT XVI’S ADDRESS TO PRESIDENT WULFF:

Mr President of the Federal Republic,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends,

I am honoured by the kind welcome which you have given to me here in Bellevue Castle. I am particularly grateful to you, President Wulff, for inviting me to make this official visit, which marks the third time I have come as Pope to the Federal Republic of Germany. I thank you most heartily for your cordial words of welcome. I am likewise grateful to the representatives of the Federal Government, the Bundestag, the Bundesrat, and the City of Berlin for their presence, which signifies their respect for the Pope as the Successor of the Apostle Peter. Last but not not least, I thank the three Bishops who are my hosts, Archbishop Woelki of Berlin, Bishop Wanke of Erfurt and Archbishop Zollitsch of Freiburg, and all those at the various ecclesial and civil levels who helped in preparing this visit to my native land and contributed to its happy outcome.

Even though this journey is an official visit which will reinforce the good relations existing between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Holy See, I have not come here primarily to pursue particular political or economic goals, as other statesmen rightly do, but rather to meet people and to speak about God.

We are witnessing a growing indifference to religion in society, which considers the issue of truth as something of an obstacle in its decision-making, and instead gives priority to utilitarian considerations.

All the same, a binding basis for our coexistence is needed; otherwise people live in a purely individualistic way. Religion is one of these foundations for a successful social life. “Just as religion has need of freedom, so also freedom has need of religion.” These words of the great bishop and social reformer Wilhelm von Ketteler, the second centenary of whose birth is being celebrated this year, remain timely.1

Freedom requires a primordial link to a higher instance. The fact that there are values which are not absolutely open to manipulation is the true guarantee of our freedom. The man who feels a duty to truth and goodness will immediately agree with this: freedom develops only in responsibility to a greater good. Such a good exists only for all of us together; therefore I must always be concerned for my neighbours. Freedom cannot be lived in the absence of relationships

In human coexistence, freedom is impossible without solidarity. What I do at the expense of others is not freedom but a culpable way of acting which is harmful to others and also to myself. I can truly develop as a free person only by using my powers also for the welfare of others. This holds true not only in private matters but also for society as a whole. In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, society must give sufficient space for smaller structures to develop and, at the same time, must support them so that one day they will stand on their own.

Here in Bellevue Castle, named for its splendid view of the banks of the Spree and situated close to the Victory Column, the Bundestag and the Brandenburg Gate, we are in the very heart of Berlin, the capital of the Federal Republic of Germany. This castle, with its dramatic history – like many buildings of this city – is a testimony to the history of Germany. A clear look at the past, even at its dark pages, enables us to learn from it and to receive an impetus for the present. The Federal Republic of Germany has become what it is today thanks to the power of freedom shaped by responsibility before God and before one another. It needs this dynamism, which engages every human sector in order to continue developing now. It needs this in a world which requires a profound cultural renewal and the rediscovery of fundamental values upon which to build a better future (Caritas in Veritate, 21).

I trust that my meetings throughout this visit – here in Berlin, in Erfurt, in Eichsfeld and in Freiburg – can make a small contribution in this regard. In these days may God grant all of us his blessing.

Filed under benedict xvi, germany, religious freedom, secularism

About Edward Pentin

Edward Pentin
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Edward Pentin began reporting on the Pope and the Vatican with Vatican Radio before moving on to become the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register. He has also reported on the Holy See and the Catholic Church for a number of other publications including Newsweek, Newsmax, Zenit, The Catholic Herald, and The Holy Land Review, a Franciscan publication specializing in the Church and the Middle East. Follow on Twitter @edwardpentin