On the Trip to Germany

«Truly a Great Feast of Faith»

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 28, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in St. Peter’s Square. The Pope reflected on his recent apostolic journey to Germany.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

As you know, last Thursday through Sunday I made a pastoral visit to Germany; and so I am delighted, as is customary, to take the opportunity of today’s audience to retrace together with you the intense and splendid days passed in my homeland. I travelled through Germany from north to south, from east to west: from the capital of Berlin to Erfurt, then to Eichsfeld and finally to Freiburg, a city near the borders of France and Switzerland.

First and foremost, I thank the Lord for the possibility He offered me to meet the people [of Germany] and to speak with them about God, to pray together and to confirm brothers and sisters in the faith, according to the special mandate the Lord entrusted to St. Peter and to his successors.
This visit, carried out under the motto «Where God is, there is a future» was truly a great feast of faith: in the various meetings and discussions, in the celebrations, and especially in the solemn Mass with the people of God. These moments were a precious gift that allowed us to perceive anew that it is God who gives our lives their deepest meaning, true fullness; indeed, that only He gives to us — gives to all — a future.

With deep gratitude, I remember the warm and enthusiastic welcome I received as well as the attention and affection shown me in the various places that I visited. I offer a heartfelt thanks to the German bishops — especially to those of the dioceses that hosted me — for their invitation and for all they did, together with so many collaborators, to prepare for this journey. A sincere thanks also goes to the federal president and to all political and civil authorities at the regional and federal levels. I am deeply grateful to all those who contributed in various ways to the success of the visit, especially to the many volunteers. It was a great gift for me and for us all, and it brought great joy, hope and a fresh impetus to faith and commitment to the future.

In the federal capital of Berlin, the federal president received me at his residence and welcomed me in his own name and in the name of all my fellow countrymen, expressing their esteem and affection for a Pope native to German soil. For my part, I was able to outline a brief thought on the reciprocal relationship between religion and freedom, recalling a phrase of the great bishop and social reformer Wilhelm von Ketteler: «Just as religion has need of freedom, so also freedom has need of religion.»

I gladly accepted the invitation to go to the Bundestag, and it was certainly among the most significant moments of my journey. For the first time, a Pope delivered an address before the members of the German Parliament. On this occasion, I wished to expound upon the foundations of law and of a free state of law; that is, upon the measure of every law, inscribed by the Creator into the very being of His creation. It is therefore necessary to expand our conception of nature, understanding it not only as an ensemble of functions but, beyond this, as the language of the Creator that helps us to discern good from evil.

Following this, a meeting took place with representatives of the Jewish community in Germany. By recalling our common roots in the faith of the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, we highlighted the fruits obtained thus far in the dialogue between the Catholic Church and Judaism in Germany.

In like manner, I had the opportunity to meet various members of the Muslim community, agreeing with them on the importance of religious freedom for the peaceful development of humanity.
The Holy Mass in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium at the conclusion of the first day of the visit was one of the great liturgical celebrations that gave me the possibility of praying together with the faithful and of encouraging them in the faith. I was very delighted by the great number of people who participated. In that joyous and moving moment, we meditated on the gospel image of the vine and the branches; that is, on the importance of being united to Christ for our personal lives as believers and for our being the Church, His Mystical Body.

The second stage in my visit was Thuringia. Germany — and Thuringia in a particular way — is the land of the Protestant Reformation. Therefore, from the outset I ardently wished to give particular prominence to ecumenism within the framework of this visit, and I greatly desired to experience a moment of ecumenism at Erfurt, since it was there that Martin Luther entered the Augustinian community, and there that he was ordained a priest.

I was gladdened, therefore, by the meeting with the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany and by the ecumenical [prayer service] at the former Augustinian Convent: It was a cordial meeting that, in dialogue and in prayer, brought us more deeply to Christ. We saw once again how important our common witness of faith in Jesus Christ is in today’s world, which often ignores God and takes no interest in Him. Our common effort is needed along the path toward full unity, but we are always well aware that we can neither «make» faith nor the unity we so desire. A faith that we ourselves create is of no value; true unity is rather a gift from the Lord, who prayed and who always prays for the unity of His disciples. Only Christ can give us this unity, and we ourselves will be ever more united in the measure that we turn to Him and allow ourselves to be transformed by Him.

A particularly moving event for me was the celebration of Marian Vespers before the sanctuary of Etzelsbach, where a multitude of pilgrims welcomed me. Ever since my youth I have heard so much about Eichsfeld — a strip of land that has always remained Catholic throughout the various vicissitudes of history — and [I have also heard much] about its inhabitants who courageously opposed the dictatorships of Nazism and of Communism. Thus, I was very happy to visit this Eichsfeld and its people on a pilgrimage to the miraculous image of the Sorrowful Virgin of Etzelsbach, where for centuries the faithful have entrusted to Mary their requests, concerns and sufferings, and have received comfort, grace and blessing.

Also moving was the Mass celebrated in the magnificent Cathedral Square of Erfurt. In remembering Thuringia’s holy patrons — St. Elizabeth, St. Boniface and St. Kilian — and the luminous example of the faithful who gave witness to the Gospel during the totalitarian regimes, I invited the faithful to be the saints of today, to be strong witnesses to Christ, and to contribute to the building up of our society. Indeed, it has always been the saints and persons imbued with the love of Christ who have truly transformed the world.

My brief encounter with Monsignor Hermann Scheipers, the last living German priest to have survived the concentration camp of Dachau, was also very moving.

At Erfurt, I also had the opportunity to meet with several victims of sexual abuse by religious; I wanted to assure them of my regret and of my closeness in their suffering.

The last leg of my journey took me to southwest Germany, to the Archdiocese of Freiburg. The inhabitants of this beautiful city, the faithful of the archdiocese and the numerous pilgrims who had come from neighboring Switzerland and France, as well as from other countries, gave me a particularly joyous welcome. I experienced this in the prayer vigil with thousands of young people as well. I was happy to see that the faith in my German homeland has a youthful face; that is it alive and has a future. In the evocative rite of light, I passed on to young people the flame of the paschal candle, a symbol of the light who is Christ, exhorting them: «You are the light of the world.» Once again, I told them that the Pope is trusti
ng in the active collaboration of young people: With the grace of Christ, they are capable of carrying the fire of God’s love to the world.

A singular moment was the meeting with seminarians at the seminary in Freiburg. Responding in a certain sense to the touching letter they had sent me some weeks ago, I wanted to show these young men the beauty and grandeur of the Lord’s call to them, and to offer them some help in continuing along the path of the following of Christ with joy in profound communion with Him.
While still at the seminary, I had the opportunity to meet, in an atmosphere of fraternity, with representatives of the Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Churches, to whom we Catholics feel very close. This great commonality gives rise also to the common task of being leaven for the renewal of our societies. A friendly meeting with representatives of the German Catholic laity concluded the series of appointments at the seminary.

The great Sunday celebration of the Eucharist at the touristic airport in Freiburg was another highpoint of the pastoral visit, and the occasion to thank all those who dedicate themselves in the various spheres of ecclesial life, especially the numerous volunteers and collaborators in charitable endeavors. It is they who make possible the manifold assistance that the Church in Germany offers to the Universal Church, especially in missionary lands. I also recalled that their precious service will always be fruitful when it comes from an authentic and lived faith, in union with the bishops and the Pope, in union with the whole Church.

Lastly, prior to my return, I spoke with a group of approximately 1,000 Catholics engaged in the life of the Church and society, offering several reflections on the action of the Church in a secularized society, and on the invitation to be liberated from material and political burdens in order to be more transparent to God.

Dear brothers and sisters, this apostolic journey to Germany offered me the propitious occasion to meet the faithful of my German homeland, to confirm them in faith, in hope and in love, and to share with them the joy of being Catholic. But my message was addressed to the whole German people, in order to invite everyone to look to the future with faith. It is true, «Where God is, there is a future.» Once again, I thank all those who made this Visit possible, and all those who accompanied me by their prayer. May the Lord bless the people of God in Germany, and may He bless you all. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna] [The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This past weekend I made an Apostolic Journey to my native land of Germany, visiting the cities of Berlin, Erfurt, Eichsfeld and Freiburg. The theme of my visit — «Where God is, there is a future» — was a reminder that it is God who gives ultimate meaning to our lives and, as the source of all good, sustains our efforts to build a just, free and flourishing society. In Berlin, I had the honour of addressing the German Parliament, while in Erfurt, a city linked to the memory of Martin Luther, I met the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany and joined in an ecumenical service of prayer for Christian unity. At Vespers in Etzelsbach and at Mass in Erfurt, I recalled the strong traditions of faith and Christian witness which mark that region, and I urged all to persevere in holiness and to work for the renewal of society. Finally at the prayer vigil and the Mass in Freiburg, I encountered the many young people whose faith in Christ gives great hope for the future of the Church in Germany.

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I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Norway, Sweden, Kenya, South Africa, Samoa, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and the United States of America. My affectionate greeting goes to the students of both the Venerable English College and the Pontifical Irish College as they take up their studies for the priesthood. I also greet the ecumenical groups from the Nordic countries and the pilgrims from Samoa. I thank the choirs, including the children’s choir from South Korea, for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you I invoke Almighty God’s blessings of joy and peace.

© Copyright 2011 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

[He concluded in Italian:]

As is customary, lastly my thoughts go to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. I invite everyone to always be faithful to the ideal of the Gospel, to fulfill it in daily life, and in this way to experience the joy of Christ’s presence.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]
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