Pope’s visit to German homeland evokes range of emotions
“Having the German pope in Germany is very important. I think the German people are very proud of that.”
During his four-day visit, Benedict was greeted by thousands of jubilant worshippers, first in Berlin, and later in Erfurt to the southwest and in Freiburg, in the far southwest of the country. Thousands crossed German borders from neighboring countries to attend Mass.
At the same time, he faced thousands of protesters in Berlin, telling him to go back to the Vatican, and 100 lawmakers boycotted his address to Parliament.
Through it all, he offered a message of inclusion and reconciliation, reaching out to other faiths. On Thursday, he met with German Jewish leaders, and on Friday he met with members of the country’s Muslim communities.
“The presence of many Muslim families since the 1970s has increasingly become a feature of this country,” Benedict told members of the Muslim community.
“However, it will be necessary to constantly work to know and understand each other better. This is not only important for peaceful coexistence but also for each to contribute to the common good in this society.”
The meeting “allowed us to experience the similarities the two religions have,” said Chalid Durmosch, founder of the youth organization Lichtjugend, which works with Muslim children in Berlin.
“It is important we move away from always discussing the differences, which we have been doing in the past, to opening up the dialogue to the similarities between our religions as there are many. That we were able to do a bit today.”
With about 4.3 million Muslims, 100,000 Jews and 50 million Christians in Germany, establishing a dialogue is crucial, said Karin Kortmann, vice president of the Central Council of German Catholics.
Christians are almost evenly divided between Catholics and the Protestants, and the country has a strong evangelical tradition dating back to Martin Luther in the 16th century.
Interfaith marriages are commonplace, and Catholics and Protestants in Germany are interested in seeing the country’s two big churches work in harmony.
“The pope extended his trip by a day so that he could accept the invitation and visit the Augustinian friary,” said Ilse Junkermann, who has been elected the fourth female bishop in the history of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD).
“It is a huge gesture. It means that he has internally gone through a process of taking a step toward us.”
Many Germans say this reconciliation should move forward.
“We now live in a society where Christians have chosen a religiously plural way of life,” said theology professor Martina Blasberg-Kuhnke at the University in Osnabruck.
“A great number of Catholics and Protestants would like to see the various branches of Christianity come closer and give those in interreligious marriages the possibility to practice together.”
The pope also met with five Germans abused by priests and said afterward he was “moved and shocked.”
That has been a sore spot for Germans since January 2010 when the first cases of sexual abuse by priests came to light. That led to thousands coming forward since then, in Germany and across Europe, and the pope publicly addressing the issue in Ireland and elsewhere.
In 2010, at least 181,000 Germans broke ties with the Catholic Church - the first time the number of people leaving the church exceeded the number of baptisms. Analysts say that trend is largely tied to the sex-abuse scandal and what is perceived as a cover-up initiated by those at the top of the church’s hierarchy.