“Faith in my native Germany has a young face, it is alive, it has a future”, said Pope Benedict XVI Wednesday as he retraced the steps of his recent 4 day visit to his native land before 20 thousand pilgrims in St Peter’s Square for the General Audience.
They included groups from the Church in Indonesia, accompanying their bishops at the beginning of their Ad Limina pilgrimage, from the Samoa Islands, from Kenya and a children’s choir from a South Korean Catholic school - who won a warm smile from Pope Benedict and applause from the crowds as they preformed a hymn and the traditional dance of the fans resplendent in their local dress.
Young men embarking on their studies for the priesthood at the Pontifical Colleges, accompanied by their tutors were also present for whom the Holy Father had particular words of encouragement: “My affectionate greeting goes to the students of both the Venerable English College and the Pontifical Irish College as they take up their studies for the priesthood”.
Speaking in Italian Pope Benedict began: “As you know, from Thursday to Sunday last I made a pastoral visit to Germany, I am pleased, therefore, as usual, to take the opportunity of today's audience with you to go over the intense and wonderful days spent in my native country. I crossed Germany from north to south, from east to west: from the capital Berlin to Erfurt and Eichsfeld and then Freiburg, a city near the border with France and Switzerland. First I thank the Lord for the opportunity offered me to meet people and speak about God, to pray together and strengthen brothers and sisters in faith, according to the particular mandate that the Lord has entrusted to Peter and his successors. This visit, which took place under the motto "Where God is, there is the future", was truly a great celebration of faith: in the various meetings and discussions, in the celebrations, especially in the solemn Masses with the people of God. These moments were a precious gift that helped us perceive once more how God is gives the deepest meaning, true fullness to our life indeed, that only He gives us, gives us all, a future”.
“I remember with deep gratitude the warm and enthusiastic welcome as well as the attention and affection shown me in the various places I visited. I heartily thank the German bishops, especially those of the diocese which hosted me, for the invitation and for all they did, along with many collaborators, in preparing for this trip. A big thank you goes also to the Federal President and all civil and political authorities at federal and regional levels. I am deeply grateful to all who have contributed in various ways to the success of the visit, especially to the many volunteers. So it was a great gift for me and for all of us and has given rise to joy, hope and a new leap of faith and commitment to the future”.
“In the federal capital Berlin, the Federal President welcomed me to his residence and welcomed me in his name and on the part of my countrymen, expressing esteem and affection for a Pope who is a native of German soil. For my part, I was able to trace a brief thought on the reciprocal relationship between religion and freedom, remembering a phrase of the great Bishop and social reformer Wilhelm von Ketteler,: "Just as religion requires freedom, freedom also needs religion."
“I gladly accepted the invitation to go to the Bundestag, that was certainly one of the moments of major importance of my trip. For the first time a Pope gave a speech before members of the German Parliament. On this occasion I wanted to expose the foundation of law and free State of law, that is, the measure of all law, inscribed by the Creator in the very being of His creation. Therefore we must broaden our concept of nature, understanding it not only as a set of functions but beyond this as the language of the Creator to help us discern right from wrong. Then there was also a meeting with representatives of the Jewish community in Germany. Remembering our common roots in faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we highlighted the fruits achieved thus far in the dialogue between the Catholic Church and Judaism in Germany. I also had the opportunity to meet some members of the Muslim community, agreeing with them about the importance of religious freedom for the peaceful development of humanity”.
“The Holy Mass in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, at the conclusion of the first day of the visit, was one of the great liturgical celebrations which gave me the opportunity to pray with the faithful and encourage them in the faith. I was very gladdened by the participation of people in large numbers! At that moment, festive and impressive , we meditated on the Gospel image of the vine and its branches, that is, on the importance of being united with Christ for our personal lives as believers and for our being Church, His mystical body”.
“The second stage of my visit was to Thuringia. Germany, and Thuringia in particular, is the land of the Protestant Reformation. So, from the beginning I was eager to give particular emphasis to ecumenism in the context of this trip, and I strongly desired an ecumenical moment in Erfurt, because in that city Martin Luther entered the Augustinian community and there he was ordained priest. So I was very pleased with the meeting with members of the Council of the Reformed Protestant Churches in Germany in the former Convent of the Augustinians: a cordial meeting that, in dialogue and prayer, led us more profoundly to Christ. Once again we have seen the importance of our common witness of faith in Jesus Christ in today's world, which often ignores God or has no interest in Him. Our common efforts in the path towards full unity are necessary, but we are always well aware that neither the faith or unity so longed for are a product of our own. A faith created by ourselves is of no value, and true unity is rather a gift from God, who prayed and prayed for the unity of his disciples. Only Christ can give us this unity, and we will be ever more united than the extent to which we return to Him and allow ourselves to be transformed by Him”.
Pope Benedict described the celebration of vespers at the Marian shrine of Etzelsbach as “particularly moving”, a region that "always remained Catholic throughout the various vicissitudes of history" whose inhabitants "have courageously opposed the dictatorships of Nazism and communism."
In Erfurt, recalling the patrons saints of Thuringia and "the shining example of the faithful who witnessed to the Gospel during the totalitarian regimes, I invited the faithful to be the saints of today, good witnesses of Christ, and to help build our society . In fact, there have always been saints and people imbued with the love of Christ to really transform the world". During the visit to Erfurt, Pope Benedict also had occasion to "meet some victims of sexual abuse by clergymen, whom I wanted to assure of my sorrow and my closeness to their suffering."
Moving onto the Freiburg stage of his visit, the Pope recalled the "very festive reception" and the prayer vigil with thousands of young people. "I was happy to see that faith in my native German has a young face, it is alive and has a future”. "I transmitted flame of the Paschal candle, symbol of light that is Christ, to the young people exhorting them: You are the light of the world. I repeated to them that the Pope is confident in the active collaboration of the youth; with the grace of Christ, they are able to bring the fire of God’s love to the world. "
Also in Freiburg, Pope Benedict met with the seminarians, "I wanted to show them the beauty and grandeur of their calling from the Lord" and with representatives of the Orthodox Churches "to whom we Catholics feel very close. In fact, it is from this broad commonality that the common task to be leaven for the renewal of our society is derived."
And finally in the great Sunday Mass at the Freiburg airport his thanks to volunteers from the charitable initiatives of the German Church. "I recalled that their valuable service will always be fruitful when it is born of an authentic faith and lives in union with the bishops and the Pope, in union with the Church. Finally, before my return, I talked to a thousand Catholics involved in the Church and in society, suggesting some reflections on the action of the Church in a secularized society, on the invitation to be free from material and political burdens to reflect God more transparently".
As published by the Vatican.