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Proud pilgrims from the pope's Bavarian homeland in RomeImage: AP

Germans Head to Papal Inauguration

DW staff (win)
April 23, 2005

Just 16 days after attending the funeral of John Paul II, world leaders and pilgrims will once again gather in Rome amid tight security on Sunday to witness the inaugural mass of German-born Pope Benedict XVI.


Fewer people are expected to return to Rome -- while the funeral drew millions, the new pontiff's first public mass is expected to have an audience of about 500,000. But those helping pilgrims find accommodation during their visit said they still had to turn people down.

"I keep telling them: 'Every place we know of is booked,'" Antonio Tedesco of the German pilgrims' center, told German public broadcaster BR. "And still people decide to come even though they don't know where they will stay."

Christian Meyer, who also works for the center, said that he's started telling people to sleep in their cars outside of town.

Galerie: Papst Benedikt Bild 9, Die Brüder Ratzinger
Georg Ratzinger (right) with his brother, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.Image: AP

Others attending Sunday's mass will have fewer problems finding a place to stay. Georg Ratzinger (photo), the pope's older brother, for example, arrived in Rome from his Bavarian hometown of Regensburg on Saturday and was seen entering Benedict XVI's old apartment.

Some, such as German President Horst Köhler and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Britain's Prince Philip and Jeb Bush, governor of Florida and brother of the US president, are likely to return home the same day.

Last minute shelters

Betten in Rom Vorbereitungen
Before John Paul II's funeral, temporary shelters were set up for the masses of pilgrims in RomeImage: dpa

But at the pilgrim's center, Tedesco said he still received calls from people offering help.

"It's nice that families, parishes and organizations calls us and say: 'We still have a room that we can offer you,'" he said.

As up to 100,000 pilgrims are expected to come from Germany, Italy's security and first aid officials have taken steps to limit communication problems.

"This time we have a lot of volunteers from South Tyrolia, because they can speak German and Italian," Francesco Pintofricaldi, the head of Italy's Maltese Order aid service, adding that about 1,500 people are coming from the northern Italian region. "They'll be able to help better when people get lost or can't find their bus any more."

NATO help

Security precautions have also been taken: NATO will provide AWACS surveillance planes to warn against any threat to the ceremony, which is expected to begin at 10 a.m. local time.

The Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWACS) aircraft will be deployed from a base in Italy to guard the airspace around the Vatican, a NATO military spokeswoman said.

Petersplatz Polizei mit Motorräder
Roman police motorbikes lined up at St. Peters SquareImage: AP

"Italian authorities will determine the specific coverage requirements," said the Supreme Headquarters Allied Forces Europe (SHAPE), adding that there is a fleet of 17 AWACS planes available.

The NATO aircraft can provide a clear picture of aircraft movements from high to low altitude to a distance greater than 200 miles (about 320 kilometers), said NATO's military command.

Thanking the media

Benedict XVI on Saturday meanwhile did his part in making sure the event's coverage will run smoothly: He met with 4,000 journalists and their families in a 15-minute audience and thanked them for their hard work since the death of John Paul II.

"Thanks to your hard work, the attention of the entire world has been fixed on the Vatican, Saint Peter's Square and the Apostolic Palace," he said in Italian. "I know how much you have worked in recent days, and that it was very hard work, away from your homes and families. I appreciate the ability and dedication with which you carried out your work."

Papst Benedikt Audienz
Benedict XVI during his first audience on SaturdayImage: AP

Speaking also in English, French and German -- which drew special applause from the German press corps -- he hailed what he called an "extraordinary media revolution," saying: "The possibilities available to us through modern social communications are truly extraordinary."

Finally, though, he said "since we are in Rome, we'll go back to Italian."

He pledged to continue the "affectionate dialogue" with the media begun in earnest by his telegenic predecessor, saying: "John Paul II was the great artisan of this open dialogue."

A ring size 24

At Sunday's mass, Benedict XVI will formally receive the insignia of his office, a pallium -- a circular band of fabric with a pendant and decorated with square crosses -- and the Fisherman's Ring with the image of Saint Peter, a disciple of Jesus and the first pope in the church's 2,000-year history.

A Vatican aide said Saturday that the pope had already been fitted for the ring.

"'I like size 24, it's twice 12,'" the number of Jesus' apostles, Monsignor Crispino Valenziano quoted the pope as saying.

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