- The Washington Times - Friday, August 19, 2005

COLOGNE, Germany — Pope Benedict XVI greeted thousands of youngsters on the banks of the Rhine, urging his flock as well as the unbaptized to “open your hearts to God.”

“That so many people have come to meet the successor of Peter is a sign of the church’s vitality,” he told the crowd of about 400,000 attending World Youth Day celebrations.

“I also greet with affection those among you who have not been baptized or who have not found a home in the church. I encourage you to open your hearts to God.”

German-born Benedict floated down the Rhine River while preaching from the bow of a cruise ship to thousands waiting for a glimpse of the silver-haired pontiff.

Later, he smiled while greeting thousands more flag-waving, chanting youngsters at Cologne’s Gothic cathedral.

Benedict eschewed some of his predecessor John Paul II’s gestures, such as kissing the ground upon arrival.

The pope will spend four days in Cologne, meeting with young Catholics and German political leaders.

He will end his visit with a large open-air Mass on Sunday that more than 1 million are expected to attend.

The visit marks an opportunity for Benedict on his first foreign trip as pontiff to reach out to young Catholics and breathe new life into the Catholic Church.

His charismatic predecessor founded World Youth Day 20 years ago and was known for reaching out to the young.

“Today it is my turn to take up this extraordinary spiritual legacy given to us by Pope John Paul II,” Benedict said. “He loved you and you returned his love with all your youthful enthusiasm. Now it is up to all of us to put his teaching into practice.”

For many youngsters attending the music- and prayer-filled six-day Catholic “Woodstock,” Benedict passed the test.

“It was fantastic to see him and hear him,” said Werner Meissner, 22, of Germany. “I was waiting for this moment for two days.”

On his visit, Benedict will also visit a German synagogue and meet with Protestant, Islamic and Jewish leaders.

“These meetings are important steps along the journey of dialogue and cooperation in our shared commitment to building a more just and fraternal future,” Benedict said.

And the pope expressed joy at being once more in his homeland. Stepping off of his plane, the wind blew off his white cap.

“Welcome home,” German President Horst Koehler said.

“It is with deep joy I find myself for the first time after my election to the chair of Saint Peter in my beloved homeland, in Germany,” Benedict responded.

It is a particular point of pride for Germans that the pope, for the first time in centuries, is German. About half of Germany’s population is Protestant in the land where the Protestant Reformation was born.

“It is particularly moving, and I say this as a Protestant, that a German one of us is now pope,” Mr. Koehler said.

“That a German was elected pope gives me a sign that 60 years after the defeat of the Nazis, there is real international reconciliation.”

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