Print Edition: Feb. 22, 2015
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BY EDWARD PENTINRegister Correspondent
— “One could use so many superlatives to describe it that there would be none
left to use,” said Cardinal Friedrich Wetter of Munich and Freising.
with Pope Benedict XVI’s visit, the Bavarian cardinal
described the papal visit to reporters as “beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.”
For the Pope
himself, speaking at
Munich airport as he departed Sept. 14 under the hot sun that had remained
with him all the way from Rome, it was a very emotional homecoming.
“I was deeply moved by the
enthusiasm and fervent devotion of the faithful who gathered to listen to the
Word of God and to join in prayer,” he said. “God be with you, land of the
Bavarian people, German soil, my native land!” he said
in closing. “Upon your vast borders may his hand rest in blessing!”
As a parting word of
advice, the Holy Father suggested Germans would benefit from taking a new look
at Pope John Paul II’s
1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens (On
Human Work), which was published on the same day 25 years
On this trip,
Benedict had two goals: Thanking those who had influenced and helped him in the land of his birth, and communicating the Gospel in
a way that will help his skeptical German countrymen rediscover the faith of
Observers suggested he had
accomplished both objectives.
“Even for those who
are not spiritual, I am convinced this visit will have lasting and deep
effect,” Cardinal Wetter said.
Edmund Stoiber, Minister President of the German state of Bavaria, said the visit
“far exceeded all expectations.”
Benedict clearly enjoyed the
opportunity to visit his native Bavaria
“Among all of us who have known
and worked with him over the years, we’ve noticed that he feels much freer than
said Cardinal Christoph Schönborn
of Vienna, who
accompanied the Pope for part of his journey. “Happy is perhaps not the right word, but you can feel
that he enjoys being the shepherd of his flock.”
But while attention was naturally
focused on him during the trip, Benedict sought throughout his apostolic voyage
to redirect that attention toward Jesus.
At his first open-air Mass in Munich Sept. 10 he spoke
of how important it is to listen to Jesus in order to be healed. The following
day, in Altötting, the place of Germany’s
best-known and most-visited Marian shrine, he referred to Mary as the best
example of how to listen to Christ and to do his will.
“Mary gave over everything to the
Lord,” he said. “She taught us how to pray; not to do our will but to turn our
will over to the will of God.”
Added Benedict, “Mary and Jesus
belong together. With her, we want to stay in conversation with the Lord and so
better receive from him and learn from him.”
Almost every available space in Altötting’s
small town square was filled with pilgrims, who gave the Pope a colorful and
rousing welcome with yellow-white-and-blue scarves and flags.
As bells rang out, the Holy Father
made a long walk around the square and spent some time praying to the
miraculous statue of the Black Madonna.
“He probably has his most personal
memories here, the place of his childhood and his family,” Bishop Wilhelm Schraml of Passau told the Register. “After
the war, he went with his father on a pilgrimage from Traunstein
to Altötting because his father wanted to give thanks
that his two sons, Joseph and Georg, had returned
safely from the war. These are very personal memories that have an important
place in his heart.”
While Benedict’s visit to Altötting coincided with the fifth anniversary of the Sept.
11 attacks, he did not refer to them explicitly in his Marian-focused homily.
And leading procession after Mass, he carried a monstrance in a gesture
conveying the spiritual lesson that the answers to all human problems are found
in the body of Jesus.
“The message was very deep because
it was about prayer and listening to
the will of God,” said Cardinal Schönborn. “Without
mentioning Sept. 11, he gave a very profound message for the way out, and we’re
all desperately looking for a way out.”
Marktl am Inn
the Holy Father made a fleeting visit to Marktl am Inn, the idyllic
Bavarian hamlet where he was born.
For many of the 2,700 inhabitants,
the visit was a monumental event. Onlookers crowded doorways and leaned out of
windows to catch a glimpse of their very special fellow townsmen. Vatican flags filled the streets and draped the walls of
The Pope spent only his first two
years in Marktl am Inn, where he was born on the Easter Vigil of 1927. On a
previous visit there as a cardinal, he remarked fondly that it “has something
very warm and friendly about it.”
During this visit, he spent 15
minutes in St. Oswald’s Church, praying
together with his brother Msgr. Georg Ratzinger at the font where he was baptized. A short drive
in the popemobile then took him to the house of his
Looking relaxed and in good humor,
the Holy Father made a short walk, waving to a delighted crowd and admiring a
monument created in his honor. The visit was the shortest but also perhaps the
most poignant of the trip.
The Holy Father then flew to Regensburg, where on Sept.
12 he celebrated his third open-air Mass of his visit at the enormous Islinger Field on the town’s outskirts.
Before the Mass, his Mercedes popemobile crept slowly around the crowd of 260,000
pilgrims, arriving at the foot of the altar to wild cheers, applause and chants
Once lowered from the popemobile, Benedict XVI climbed the steps of the altar,
where he was greeted by an array of bishops and cardinals from all over the
world. The specially composed processional hymn “Wer Glaubt Ist
Nie Allein” (“Whoever
believes is never alone”) — the motto of his pilgrimage — boomed through
Like every town on the papal
came to a standstill. Most citizens took the day off work; Bavarian
schoolchildren were given an extra day’s vacation.
In his homily, the Holy Father
centered on the need to come to know God as he really is, and not as an entity
stripped of many of his divine attributes through a rationalistic, scientific
“It is important to state clearly
the God in whom we believe, to proclaim confidently that this God has a human
face,” he said. “Only this can free us from being afraid of God — which
ultimately is at the root of modern atheism.”
“He wants to give everyone the
courage to begin again the dialogue between faith and reason,” Father Paulus Terwitte, a Capuchin friar
from Frankfurt, said after the Mass. “And he is showing to bishops and priests
how they have to preach — this is the most important aspect in my view.”
said the Pope was indicating an effective way to evangelize in cultures like Germany, where
many people think that belief in God is “abnormal.”
Benedict amplified on the same
theme in his talk to scientists at the University of Regensburg
on the evening of Sept. 12, in an address that many regarded as the most
significant of his visit.
The speech gave the Pope, a famed
theologian before becoming a bishop, a chance to become a professor once again,
placing a mortarboard atop his papal skullcap and delivering a lecture rather
than a homily.
Faith cannot exist without reason,
and vice-versa, the Holy Father emphasized in his remarks to his academic
audience. But the contemporary dependence on science has led to a false notion
of a God without reason, he said.
Such an intellectual diminishing
of God, which strips Christian theology from its Greek intellectual roots,
compromises humanity’s capacity for moral judgment and ethics, Benedict said.
It also gives rise to a false understanding of God as a subjective being with
an arbitrary will.
Ultimately, the Pope said, this
scientific rationalism leads to the exclusion of God from everyday life — an
exclusion that less rationalistic cultures find threatening.
“The world’s profoundly religious
cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an
attack on their most profound convictions,” he said. “A reason that is deaf to
the divine and which relegates religion in the realm of subcultures is
incapable of entering into dialogue with cultures.”
Remarks on Islam
In his remarks at the University of Regensburg, Benedict also offered a
critique of some aspects of Islam. He said that the Muslim religion views Allah
as being so great as to render him incomprehensible
and unknowable, and seemingly beyond reason.
This perception of God opens the
door to the justification of acts of violence committed in his name, such as jihad (holy war), Benedict argued.
“Violence is incompatible with the
nature of God and the nature of the soul,” he said.
Much of the world’s media — and
many Islamic leaders — subsequently interpreted the Pope’s University of Regensburg
speech as a direct attack on Islam. In fact, however, the Pope’s references to
Islam, which drew upon a 15th-century conversation between a Byzantine emperor
and a learned Persian elder, were made primarily to illustrate the dangers of
the contemporary Western dismissal of God as scientifically unknowable and
therefore beyond reason.
“It is the crisis of
identity in the West, in particular in Europe, that is the true cause that
provokes a clash of civilizations — a thesis the Pope has already expressed,”
Italian Sen. Marcello Pera, co-author with Benedict
of a book about Europe’s spiritual crisis, told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera
The final stop of
Benedict’s journey was in Freising, the small town
just outside Munich
where he was ordained a priest 45 years ago.
ahead of schedule Sept. 14 from Regensburg
after a second day spent in private in that city, the Pope drove slowly through
Freising to cheers and chants of his name.
Once he had passed
by, children scampered down side alleys to catch up with him again as he
doubled back and climbed the hill to the ancient church.
Speaking there to
priests, deacons and seminarians, the Holy Father spoke optimistically about a resurgence in vocations.
approach of Jesus,” he said, “is one of optimism, based on the confidence in
the power of the Father, the ‘Lord of the harvest.’”
The key to inspiring
more vocations, he said, is through remaining in “intimate communion with the
Lord of the harvest.”
warm Bavarian reception came as a surprise to some Germans. For more than two
decades while he served in Rome
as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he was frequently
the target of vitriolic media attacks for his alleged doctrinal “conservatism.”
But during his homecoming, Müncheners
flocked out in force.
In a survey carried
out for Bavarian television, 69% of Bavarians said their faith was helped by
the papal visit. Among Bavarian Catholics, 72% said their faith received a
boost; among Protestants, the figure was even higher at 74%.
In another sign of
the universality of the Pope’s welcome, predicted protests failed to
materialize. The only moment of trouble occurred when a male teenager broke
free from the crowd during the open-air Mass in Regensburg and ran towards the Pope.
The youth ran to
within 100 yards of the Holy Father before he was tackled by security guards.
Afterward, police released the teen — described in the German press as a “Pope
fanatic” who was desperate to get as close as possible to the Holy Father —
with merely a caution.
As Benedict flew
back to Rome in
a plane piloted by one of his former students, a sudden shift in the weather
symbolized the feelings of many Bavarians about departure of their homegrown
Pope. Just minutes after his take-off, the unbroken sunshine and clear blue
skies that had accompanied the Pope’s visit gave way to clouds.
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