Pope Benedict XVI said yesterday that he was happy to see that “the faith in my German homeland has a young face, is alive and has a future”.
At his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope told an estimated 10,000 pilgrims and visitors about his four-day state visit to Germany.
While the pilgrims were awaiting the Pope’s arrival by helicopter from Castel Gandolfo and again at the end of the audience when he was greeting cardinals and bishops, the crowds were entertained by the Angelus Domini children’s choir and nine dancers from Cheongju, South Korea. Even while the children were singing, a violinist met the Pope and played a quick tune for him, standing right in front of him.
In his audience talk, the Pope said his trip was a true “festival of faith,” and his liturgies and Masses, meetings with public officials, other Christians and Jewish and Muslim representatives “helped us see once again how it’s God who gives the deepest meaning and true fullness to our lives; in fact, he alone gives us, gives everyone, a future”.
Pope Benedict said it was “particularly moving” to meet briefly in Erfurt with the 98-year-old Mgr Hermann Scheipers, “the last surviving priest from the Dachau concentration camp”. The Nazi camp had a special section for imprisoned priests and ministers who had spoken out against the Nazis. Mgr Scheipers was arrested for ministering to forced labourers from Poland. More than 2,500 Catholic priests were imprisoned in Dachau, and more than 1,000 of them died there.
The Pope also spoke briefly about his meeting in Erfurt with five victims of clerical sexual abuse. He said: “I wanted to assure them of my sadness and my closeness to them in their suffering.”
Pope Benedict said he was honoured to be the first pope to address the German parliament and he wanted to lead the legislators and all citizens in a reflection about the relationship between faith and freedom, and about the importance of moral values having an impact on the way people live together in society.
The 84-year-old Pope said that since he was a young man “I had heard people talk about the region of Eichsfeld – a strip of land that always has remained Catholic despite various historical events – and about its inhabitants who courageously opposed the dictatorships of Nazism and communism”.
Visiting the Marian shrine at Etzelsbach and celebrating vespers, the Pope joined generations of people who “entrusted to Mary their requests, concerns and sufferings, receiving comfort, grace and blessings”, he said.
The final leg of the Pope’s trip took him to Freiburg, a deeply Catholic region of Germany.
The trip, he said, “offered me the occasion to meet the faithful of my German homeland and to confirm them in faith, hope and love, and share with them the joy of being Catholic. But my message was addressed to the entire German people to invite them to look with hope toward the future.”