Benedict XVI makes first foreign trip, returning to his native Germany |

Benedict XVI makes first foreign trip, returning to his native Germany

COLOGNE, Germany – Pope Benedict XVI began his first foreign trip as pontiff Thursday in low-key style, returning to his “beloved” German homeland and cruising the Rhine as tens of thousands of Roman Catholic young people cheered from the riverbanks.In contrast with his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, Benedict did not kiss the ground on arrival from Rome and spoke in soft tones, seeming stiff at times.But his message was the same as he sought to revive an often flagging faith and stress the Christian heritage of a Europe that has become increasingly one of empty churches, liberal abortion laws and gay marriage.”Along this interior journey we can be guided by the many signs with which a long and rich Christian tradition has indelibly marked this land of Germany,” he said.Benedict’s arrival was subdued, with only a few hundred admirers welcoming him at the airport, but as the day wore on the crowds and the enthusiasm grew. Benedict stood on the upper deck of the RheinEnergie cruise ship, waving and blessing the crowds, and showed off his language skills, addressing the young people in five languages.While the trip was built around the Church’s World Youth Day and Benedict’s efforts to counter secularism in Europe, he also intended to reach out to Jews, Muslims and other Christians.”These meetings are important steps along the journey of dialogue and cooperation in our shared commitment to building a more just and fraternal future which is truly more human,” Benedict said.In one of the most sensitive appointments of the four-day trip, the German-born pope who was enrolled in the Hitler Youth as a teen will visit the Cologne synagogue that was destroyed by the Nazis and rebuilt in the 1950s. He has received high marks from Jews for his work for better relations.”I also greet with affection those among you who have not been baptized or who have not found a home in the church,” he said upon arriving, urging them to “open wide your hearts to God.”The faith should be proclaimed by believers “from this land in the heart of Europe, a Europe which owes so much to the Gospel and its witness down through the centuries.”As he got off the plane, a strong wind blew his white papal skullcap back inside the cabin. He reached for it in vain and went on with the ceremonial welcome, his silver hair blowing in the wind.Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and President Horst Koehler greeted Benedict on the red carpet at the aircraft, which had German and Vatican flags hanging from the cockpit windows.Despite the low-key entrance, the waiting crowd – watching on a large television screen in front of the cathedral – cheered wildly and chanted, “Benedict! Benedict!”It was Benedict’s first trip home to Germany since his election April 19. He was born in Marktl Am Inn in the southern state of Bavaria and served as archbishop of Munich.In his arrival speech, Benedict paid tribute to his “great and beloved predecessor” and said he was thankful to be able to address such a throng of young people.”The meeting of so many young people with the successor of Peter is a sign of the vitality of the church,” he said.St. Peter is considered the first pope by Roman Catholics.He made three references in his speeches to Edith Stein, the Jewish convert to Catholicism who entered a Carmelite convent in Cologne and was later killed at Auschwitz. Stein was canonized by John Paul.The wind and crowd noise made the soft-spoken Benedict’s words inaudible much of the time, but people seemed to feel that just seeing him was important.”The purpose is to tell him welcome to Cologne. Now he can see that we are here for him, and it is a great joy to have the pope here with us,” said Stephane Andre from the French town of Garges-Les-Gonesse near Paris.Andre, 22, attended John Paul’s funeral in Rome in April.”Everyone wants to show Benedict XVI that we are here and we love him even though he is not John Paul II,” he said.The late pope remains very much on people’s minds, since he founded World Youth Day and served for 27 years, making him the only pope some Catholics have ever known. Many made plans to come while he was still alive, in hopes of seeing him, and people were eager to see how Benedict would connect with his audience.”John Paul II really loved the youth and it looks like Benedict is committed to continuing that,” said the Rev. Chas Canoy, leading a group of 11 young adults from St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Ann Arbor, Mich.”A lot of us grew up under John Paul II, so now we’re getting used to our new shepherd – our German shepherd.”

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