Pope looks to avoid political games during homecoming | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 22.09.2011
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Pope looks to avoid political games during homecoming

"Welcome home!" That's how the German president greeted Pope Benedict XVI on his arrival in Berlin. The pontiff was given a ceremonious welcome, but said his aim was to give Catholics courage to stay true to their faith.

Pope and Bundestag

It's Benedict's third visit to Germany as pope

Amid gun salutes and military music, Pope Benedict XVI was greeted in Berlin on Thursday by German President Christian Wulff at his official residence, Schloss Bellevue. The Pope walked with small, faltering steps across the red carpet laid down in the grounds of the palace. The 84-year-old seemed more frail than on his last visit to Germany in 2006.

As he made his way across the lawn, applause broke out among the 600 invited guests. The pope waved and said although he was on an official visit to Germany, he didn't want to talk politics.

The ceremonial formalities, including the playing of national anthems seemed almost burdensome to him.

"I would rather meet the people," the pope said in a short response to the president's greeting.

The Vatican flag flying above the Bundestag

The pope is making a historic speech in the Bundestag

Pope Benedict brought with him a clear message on his third visit to Germany as pontiff: That society needs to return to faith and values. His tour to Berlin, Erfurt and Freiburg will give him the opportunity to get that message across.

German President Christian Wulff greeted the pope with the words "welcome home, Holy Father!" In his address, Wulff said that millions of people would be looking forward to his visit, even if faith is no longer a self-evident part of everyday life. He added that the Church was facing major challenges. It had to find answers to many questions and redefine its own status.

"How should it respond to the misconduct of public officials? What is the role of women in the Church?" Wulff asked. Although Church and state are separated in Germany, he added, that did not mean that the Church was parallel to society - it was at the center of society.

"Your visit will strengthen Christians and all people in Germany," Wulff told the pope.

"Hope for the people"

Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the archbishop of Cologne and a close confidant of the Pope, was among the guests at Schloss Bellevue. He told Deutsche Welle he was pleased that Benedict had returned to Germany for a third time.

Demonstrators with placards

Around 20,000 anti-pope protesters are marching through Berlin

"All good things come in threes," he said. "It will bring hope to everyone, not just to Catholics. He speaks in the name of the whole of Christianity."

The German president highlighted the role of the Church in the years of change in the former East Germany after the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. Wulff said the Church gave shelter to those in need.

For his part, the Pope said he wanted to tackle the sense of complacency confronting all religions. He added that people needed a common basis of values as a foundation for cooperation. He said that freedom arises only if people feel a sense of responsibility towards a greater good.

The pontiff was to continue this theme in a speech to the German parliament later in the day. He is the first pope to speak in the Bundestag, but he was anxious not to turn it into a political speech. A number of parliamentarians from opposition parties, the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Left Party said they would stay away from the session because they rejected the appearance of a religious leader in the state parliament.

High security

Although Benedict has stated he wants to reach out to the people of Germany, he won't get to meet many of them in person. His visit is classed at the highest level of security. Indeed, the pontiff is largely shielded from most of the estimated one billion Catholics worldwide. Security was tight on the streets of Berlin on Thursday: Snipers had taken up their posts on top of buildings near where the pope was to be housed.

Fences in place at the Bundestag

There is tight security surrounding the visit

Gay rights campaigners and feminist groups have organized the biggest anti-Pope parade, the biggest of some six demonstrations planned in the center of Berlin. Around 20,000 protesters are expected. In the whole city, 6,000 police officers from nine federal states are on duty. Traffic in the capital will be interrupted when the popemobile is driving through.

Surveys show that most Berliners couldn't care less about the arrival of the pope, but they are angry about the disruption to traffic. Berlin is not a Catholic stronghold - most of its inhabitants are non-believers or Protestants.

Still, around 70,000 people are expected to attend Mass in the Olympic Stadium on Thursday evening. Many pilgrims have traveled from the west of the country on special trains to be there. Another 2,000 are coming in from Poland.

On Friday, the Pope will make his way to the eastern town of Erfurt to meet leaders of the protestant church in Germany and discuss closer cooperation between the two denominations.

Author: Bernd Riegert / ji
Editor: Rob Turner

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