German President's Welcome Address to Benedict XVI

“Your Election to the Papacy Is of Historic Significance”

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COLOGNE, Germany, AUG. 18, 2005 ( Here is a translation of the welcome speech German President Horst Köhler addressed to Benedict XVI today at Konrad Adenauer Airport.

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Holy Father,

Welcome home!
Welcome to Germany!

Greetings from all of us here.

We are glad to see you. We are delighted that your first official visit abroad has brought you here to Germany. This is a joyful day for us all.

World Youth Day, which you have invited young people to attend, is a wonderful occasion. I think it is marvelous that so many young people have come to enjoy our hospitality.

Even as a Protestant I can say that we are very much moved by the fact that a German, one of us, has become Pope. Allow me to say this to you once again, here on German soil — we wish you all the very best and God’s blessing for your high office.

Your election to the papacy is of historic significance.

Following the Pope from Poland, the first country to be invaded by Germany during the Second World War, a member of the so-called flak helper generation has now been chosen as St. Peter’s successor. This is for me a source of confidence — 60 years after the end of the inhuman and ungodly ideology which prevailed in Germany.

People around the world have also perceived it as a sign of reconciliation. Let me share a secret with you — only a few minutes after your election, the Polish President Kwasniewski was the first to phone me and congratulate us.

Holy Father,

Almost 50 years ago you embarked on your academic career as a very young theology professor at the University of Bonn, not far from here. Your interpretation of doctrine inspired your listeners then — and your reputation in the academic world has continued to grow ever since. For you, faith and theology have never been the lofty preserve of academia. You have always worked to ensure that the central message of the Creed also has a bearing on secular culture and on politics.

That has inevitably caused dissent. But you rightly prefer dissent to indifference. For the principles of faith, too, are intended to be the salt of the earth. Scholars from all over the world have therefore specifically sought you out to engage in discussion, including one of your contemporaries, Jürgen Habermas, fairly recently.

I believe it is also an honor for the field of German theology, and for the German humanities in general, that someone from their ranks has been chosen to exchange the lectern for the “cathedra Petri.”

When you were accepted as a member of the prestigious Academy of the Institut de France in 1992 to replace the great Andrei Sakharov, you said of him, “He was more than a great scholar, he was a great man.” You likewise combine erudition with wisdom. That is why many people — also far beyond the Catholic Church — seek and find in you a moral authority.

Holy Father,

You have come to a country in which the Christian churches play an active role. I am glad that this is the case.

Take the Catholic and Protestant youth groups, for example. Young people today are often accused of lacking commitment or being fixated on themselves. However, this is certainly not true of the many thousands of youth group leaders who take responsibility for children or young people of their own age in the boy scouts and girl guides, the Katholische Junge Gemeinde (German Federation of Catholic Children’s and Youth Organizations), the YMCA and elsewhere on a voluntary basis. Here, many young people learn how worthwhile it is to help others, and how fulfilling that can be.

Church youth work in particular encourages young people to absorb values and learn responsible behavior, on which our entire society depends. The orientation for which so many cry out today can only come from those who have already found it. My impression is that church youth work is a great force for good, even indispensable in this area.

The Churches’ social commitment derives from a specific view of humanity, a view of humanity which is not influenced by pragmatism or materialism. It tells us that man shall not live by bread alone. And that only by reaching out to and interacting with others can we find inner fulfillment. Freedom, personality and solidarity are inextricably linked. That is what the social teachings of the Catholic Church rightly impart. The Churches’ charitable and welfare work is therefore much more than a social repair company.

This commitment always presents a political challenge, too — not to turn a blind eye to the weak, the sick, the dying, the underdogs. All verbal calls for solidarity remain unconvincing unless they are accompanied by practical commitment, by love in action.

I constantly see evidence that this love in action and the commitment to building a just society are very much alive in the Churches here. The lay workers, who show great devotion in their service, have therefore truly earned the appreciation of their Church leaders and the thanks of us all.

Holy Father,

You have come to World Youth Day, an event which your predecessor, the unforgotten John Paul II, invited young people around the world to attend. World Youth Day is intended to be a sign of hope. Global solidarity among young people can be a great force for good. It reminds us of our responsibility for the One World in which we live.

Nonetheless, I am well aware that World Youth Day is not primarily concerned with action programs or theoretical discussions. It focuses on spirituality, spiritual experience, prayer and the celebration of faith. Change, true change, has to begin in the heart of the individual. With their openness and their search for direction, the many hundreds of thousands of young people are giving particularly us older people a sign of hope and confidence. I have witnessed this myself in the past few days.

At a time when many people live in fear of terrorism and violence prompted by supposedly religious motives, it is good to experience faith and religion as a way to peace and compassion. You yourself, Holy Father, have often spoken of the fact that there are “pathologies” of religion, or false paths, even in Christianity, in the same way that there are false paths in enlightened reason. Both, religion and reason, must constantly correct and purify each other, as you have said.

I hope that this World Youth Day, which you have called people to attend, will stand as an undeniable expression of a compassionate and humane faith. A faith which is not indifferent to the world and humanity, a faith which testifies to the fact that we are all God’s children in this one world.

And I say it again: Welcome, Pope Benedict!

[Translation of German original issued by the organizers of World Youth Day]

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