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Benedict: An Effective Faith-Offensive?

The successor to the charismatic John Paul II has been under close scrutiny on his first foreign visit as pope as to whether he can inspire the young as his predecessor did. Many say he did, in his own style.

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Pope Benedict XVI was welcomed like a pop star at the open air mass

It was a simple lunch Friday for Pope Benedict XVI at the Seminary in Cologne: an omelette and conversation with a dozen children from five continents. But for this reputedly shy intellectual, the "bull dog" of doctrine at the Vatican who was respected, admired and feared, it was anything but simple.

"He told me, ‘I spoke little, I listened and I learned much,’" Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the Archbishop of Cologne told DW-WORLD. "He said that he came away from the experience amazed."

As were the children: some told him of their homelands, others about their families and themselves.

"The issues we discussed were all very personal," Jason Mackiewicz of New Zealand told reporters.

From his first appearance smiling and waving shyly from the helm of the boat sailing down the Rhine to public addresses in front of the Cathedral and at the huge mass at Marienfeld, a former open pit mine, observers have watched and wondered if the shy man known for his intellectual cool could turn on the charm and woo the young back to an ailing church.

Many say he did.

"He has his own style, more quiet than John Paul," said Cardinal Meisner. "But I think we all saw how the young were inspired."

A Catholic "Woodstock"

They stood thigh-high in water to get a closer glimpse of the Pontiff sailing by. They waited for hours to get a spot to see the pope. They spent all night under the stars to be able to hear him lead a final Mass the next morning.

For many of the more then a million young pilgrims that traveled to the 6-day Catholic convention, it was the pope that made World Youth Day extra special.

"It was awesome, so inspiring," said Erin Rose, 19, from the US, who attended Sunday's mass. "It gave me the feeling to try to go to church more, pray more, be better."

Weltjugendtag - Besuch Papst Benedikt XVI.

Sometimes he abandoned the popemobile

Others said that while they may disagree with the Church’s teachings on some topics such as premarital sex and contraception, Benedict is still their religious leader.

"I want to hear what he has to say even if I don’t agree," said Pauline Rividat of France. "He is our leader and we have to at least listen and try to follow him."

A spiritual party

Some young pilgrims said that they didn’t expect a chance to see the pope but wanted to come anyway.

"There is a real sense of togetherness here," said Kevin Hoareau, 25, of France. "I got to meet lots of people from everywhere, and we laughed and prayed together. It has been really fun."

World Youth Day was started 20 years ago by John Paul who was greeted like a pop idol during his appearances. During the convention, young people from almost 200 countries attend spiritual seminars and prayer sessions and generally fill the streets, singing and dancing.

And while John Paul put much of his focus on the young and instructing them in religion and behavior during his appearances and during his 27 years as Pontiff, Benedict eschewed some of his predecessor’s gestures and themes and made piety, unity and outreach to non-Catholics a primary theme of his visit.

Weltjugendtag in Köln

Some say he inspires them to be better

In most of his addresses to the young, he eschewed instructing the pilgrims on abstinence. Instead, he told them to "open their hearts to God."

He also became the first pope to visit a German synagogue and told Jewish leaders that "we must do more" to improve relations between the two communities.

He told Protestant clergy that he had a good reason to be optimistic of Christian unity because of the "network of spiritual links" developing between the different churches. Benedict has been criticized by Protestants for not living up to his promise of inclusiveness.

And he told members of the Turkish community in Germany that they must instruct and guide their children in the Islamic faith and work with Christians to stamp out terrorism.

An in spite of concerns when he was elected that he was not the type of church leader that could bring new vitality to the church as Europe becomes increasingly secular, observers say that his quiet demeanor is misleading.

"He is tough and will be able to move the Church in a new direction," said Oliver Boss, secretary to the Archbishop of Cologne. "Don’t underestimate him."

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