On his first full day of appearances at the World Youth Day Festival in Cologne, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a warm, but uncompromising message for pilgrims to serve Christ "whatever the cost".
Pope Benedikt XVI addressed a multitude on the banks of the Rhine
Pope Benedict XVI returned to his homeland for the first foreign trip of his pontificate Thursday saying he hoped his visit would mark a step towards reconciliation with other religions and unity among Christians.
Against the backdrop of the city's dramatic 13th century cathedral and ahead of a landmark visit to Cologne's synagogue on Friday, the pope offered a "warm greeting" to representatives of other Christian denomination and religions at the Catholic World Youth Day festival.
"I thank all of you for our presence in Cologne at this great gathering, in the hope that it will mark a step forward on the path towards reconciliation and unity," said the German-born pope, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
By using his visit here to meet with the leaders of Jewish and Muslim communities, Benedict has underscored a pledge made in his first speeches after his election in April that he would use his pontificate to work for Christian unity and to build bridges with the other monotheistic religions.
Benedict's symbolic visit to Cologne's synagogue at midday on Friday will be only the second in modern history, following that of his predecessor John Paul II to Rome's synagogue 19 years ago.
"While John Paul II expressed himself through gestures, Pope Ratzinger gives great space to words. This pontificate will be a pontificate of concepts and of words," Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told journalists Thursday in a rare public comparison of papal styles.
Benedict looking to build a youth following
Seeking to build the same kind of rapport with young people enjoyed by his charismatic predecessor, Pope Benedict said he would use his trip to "confirm their faith and enliven their hope". But his key message of the opening day of a four-day visit to the World Youth Day festival, though delivered warmly, was uncompromising.
"In these days I encourage you to commit yourselves without reserve to serving Christ, whatever the cost," he told a huge gathering of young people from the top deck of a river cruiser on the Rhine. "Share your joys and pains with Christ, and let him enlighten your minds with his light and touch your hearts with his grace."
Benedict reserved a special welcome for young pilgrims from the Orient, including China, where Vatican relations with the government are cool.
"You are the representatives of so many of our brothers and sisters who are waiting, without realizing it, for the star to rise in their skies and lead them to Christ, Light of the Nations, in whom they will find the fullest response to their hearts' deepest desires."
Pilgrims line the river as pope blesses the throng
The 78-year-old pope, waved his arms and blessed the crowd from the ship as it traveled down the Rhine, cheered by the youthful crowd from under a multitude of colorful flags.
Pilgrims wait for Pope Benedict XVI's boat trip at the river Rhine in Cologne, Germany, on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2005. Pope Benedict XVI arrived Thursday on his first foreign trip as pontiff to take part in the Roman Catholic Church's 20th World Youth Day in Cologne.
Hundreds of them went into the water up to their knees to get a closer look at the passing pope. The young people chanted "Benedetto" in a football chant cadence as his boat sailed down Germany's longest river in a snake-curve pattern so more could see him.
Historic visit to Cologne Cathedral
Later at the famous twin-spired cathedral, the pope pushed his message that the youth represented the future of the church. "Through you may other young people everywhere come to recognize in Christ the true answer to their deepest aspirations," he said.
"I also greet with affection those among you who have not been baptized or who have not found a home in the church," he said, urging them to "open wide your hearts to God."
Pilgrims crowd the streets as Pope Benedict XVI drives by in the pope-mobil during his visit to Cologne, western Germany,Thursday, Aug. 18, 2005. Benedict XVI arrived for his first foreign trip as Pope in Cologne Thursday.
The pope then took his first popemobile trip outside the Vatican when he toured the streets of the city, where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims flocked to catch a glimpse of the Holy Father on his way from Cologne's cathedral to the residence of Cardinal Meissner, the Archbishop of Cologne, his base during the four-day visit.
Disclaimer: Deutsche Welle is a media partner of World Youth Day 2005.