Compared to some of his predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI rarely travels abroad. But speculation in his native Germany is mounting that he will return for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 2009.
Pope Benedict could be considering another trip home
During a private audience on Thursday, April 3, Dieter Althaus, the premier of German state Thuringia, invited the pope to return to his home country. Though Althaus' spokesman said the pontiff was "basically open" to the idea, the head of the Catholic Church has yet to make an official decision.
A tour of the former East
A trip to Erfurt would likely include mass at the Cathedral of Mary
Still, the mass-circulation tabloid Bild reported Friday that the journey would occur in mid-April 2009. The anticipated trip would combine celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 60th anniversary of the passage of Germany's democratic constitution.
It would also likely be limited to the cities of Berlin and Erfurt, Thuringia's capital. In the heart of the communist former East Germany, Thuringia is the center of the cult of St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231), who was born to a royal family and dedicated her life for the poor and sick.
Erfurt is also a place where Catholics are few. A visit there may be seen as a political move among Germans, one-third of whom describe themselves as Catholic. Althaus, however, said he would like the visit to focus on the role of the church in a globalized world and the position of the family in society.
Speculation about a fresh visit first peaked in February. Catholic Church figures have asked Benedict to visit, but the Diocese of Erfurt said Thursday there was no official confirmation that the pope had accepted those invitations.
A rare visit
Visits abroad by the 80-year-old pope are rare. He has only three trips outside of Italy scheduled for this year, including a much-publicized tour to the United States in mid-April. During that trip, the former German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger will be touring a synagogue before the Jewish high holiday of Passover, a move intended to show good will to the Jewish people.
The pontiff was in Cologne for World Youth Day in 2005
Pope Benedict XVI sparked controversy recently when he approved a revised version of a Good Friday Mass in Latin that includes a line asking God to help Jews "acknowledge Jesus Christ as the savior."
A return to Germany would mark the third visit for the pontiff since he ascended in 2005. His visit to Cologne in 2005 as part of World Youth Day, a Catholic youth convention, was received by a crowd of nearly 1 million -- a record in the convention's 20-year history.