Benedict XVI has started his visit to Germany and Munich, the city where he was archbishop. Personal memories and a strong invitation to preserve the faith were intertwined in his intervention.
Munich (AsiaNews) An immersion in his personal past, bringing and seeking to concretize the hope that future generations will conserve Christian tradition. This is how Benedict XVI started his visit, this afternoon, to "some places that had a fundamental importance in my life", as he himself said in an address at the international airport of Munich, in response to the "welcome back to your homeland", extended to him by the federal president, Horst Köhler, during a ceremony that was definitely cordial. "At this time," said his pope, "many memories arise within me of years spent in Munich and Regensburg: they are memories of people and places that left profound marks in me. Conscious of what I have received, I am here above all to express the vivid sense of acknowledgment that I feel for all those who contributed to forming my personality. But I am also here as Successor to the apostle Peter, to reaffirm and confirm the profound links between the See of Rome and the Church of our Homeland."
Flags, military flags and traditional Bavarian costumes welcomed a radiant Benedict XVI, during a visit that today appeared to be centred especially on memories of years gone by, from "my beloved university activities" to the time when the then Mgr Ratzinger was called to lead the diocese. There was also the exhortation to Bavarians to "conserve their religion". The wish to issue an invitation to "rediscover God" on the one hand, and to see his land again, had already been indicated by Benedict XVI as objectives of the trip, in an interview given in August to some German television stations and to Vatican Radio.
The pope described this as his first visit in German land, thus underlining the non-national nature of World Youth Day held in Cologne last year. The force of Bavarian religious tradition was continuously intertwined with his personal memories in his arrival speech and the address given in "Mariensäule" (Pillar of Our Lady) in Marienplatz as well as in his prayer to Our Lady there. Benedict XVI expressed his joy at the opportunity to return to his homeland when he exchanged jokes with journalists accompanying him on the visit. "I am an old man and I don't know how much time the Lord will give me yet," he replied to those who asked him if he intended going to Berlin. He added: "If I come to Germany again, it will be a joy for me and I will consider it as a gift from God."
On his arrival, his cloak blowing in the wind, he talked about the "links of a secular history, fed by the firm adhesion to values of the Christian faith, an adhesion that the Bavarian regions in particular can boast of. This is testified by famous monuments, majestic cathedrals, statues and paintings of great artistic value, literary works, cultural initiatives and especially by many stories of individuals and communities that mirror the Christian convictions of generations that lived on this earth so dear to me." He added: "The current social context is in many ways different to the past. All the same, I think we are united in the hope that new generations will remain faithful to the spiritual patrimony that resisted through all the crises of history. My visit to the land of my birth is intended as an encouragement in this sense too."
Later, in a Marienplatz teeming with white and blue flags of Bavaria and white and yellow flags of the Vatican amid a crowd that welcomed him extremely warmly with cries and choruses, Benedict XVI said he had "reason to feel especially moved" as he found himself in "this beautiful square at the feet of Mariensäule a place that already two other times represented decisive turning points in my life. Here, nearly 30 years ago (in 1977), the faithful welcomed me with affection ad joy as their new Archbishop: then I started my service with a prayer to Our Lady. Here, five years later, having been called by the pope to Rome, I took leave of my diocese, once again making a prayer to the Bavarian patron, to entrust to her protection 'my' city and my homeland. Today, I am here once again, this time as Successor of St Peter." He added: "I am once again at the feet of the Mariensäule to implore the intercession and blessing of the Mother of God, this time not only for the city of Munich and for Bavaria, but for the universal Church and for all men of goodwill.