Looking Back: Benedict XVI's Early Travels

Summarizing Facets of a Pontificate

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Benedict XVI dedicated part of his time to travel and to visit his flock around the world. In fact, he made 30 trips within Italy – not counting the many Roman parishes he visited in his capacity as Bishop of Rome — and 24 trips to 25 countries, including Palestine. 

Hence, it would not be right to deprive him of the title of the «traveling Pope.»

Cologne, Germany: A youth among youths

The pontificate of Benedict XVI’s successor will begin with at least one note of similarity to Benedict’s. World Youth Day will be one of the major first events for both of them.

When the German Pontiff looked over his initial engagements in 2005, the 20th World Youth Day in Cologne, none other than his native country, was on the list — and he confirmed his participation immediately. Now, in less than five months, his successor will be in Rio for the 2013 WYD.

According to some, those were «test» days, because everyone focused on the charism the Pope would «have» to demonstrate before the thousands of young people who came to hear him. But a new myth was exploded, as the Pope engaged the young people, and made himself heard. 

His trip on the Rhine River with young people became famous, clearly symbolic of Peter’s barque with its new helmsman. Tremendous also was the young people’s welcome at the Poller Rheinwiesen pier, and the crowd that arrived to attend the Mass in the Marienfeld esplanade.

At Cologne he gave a message to the world, by including an audience with representatives of the Muslim communities, who arrived promptly for the appointment, held in the archbishopric of Cologne. 

Poland: continued protection 

It is not clear if a visit to Poland was planned by John Paul II, given his state of health and recent trip to his native country, but Benedict XVI showed clearly his gratitude for the figure of his predecessor by visiting Poland from May 25-28, 2006. 

The symbol of his visit was his arrival at the shrine of the Virgin of Jasna Gora in Czestochowa, where he venerated and undoubtedly asked for the same lights and protection that the Black Virgin gave the beloved Polish Pope. 

Among the usual visits and meetings with government leaders, politicians and bishops, the Pope was able to meet with men and women religious, seminarians and representatives of Movements and of Consecrated Life at the shrine of Jasna Gora, thus continuing his predecessor’s custom during his trips. 

Another event to highlight was the awaited meeting with Archbishop Jeremiah, head of the auto-cephalous Orthodox Church and of the Polish Ecumenical Council. 

Valencia: faith in the family

Another event planned earlier, and undoubtedly confirmed by the new Pontiff, was the 5th World Meeting of Families in the Spanish city of Valencia, which he attended on July 8-9, 2006. 

Having carried out the courtesy visit to the Sovereigns of Spain in the Palace of the Generalitat in Valencia, he summoned the then President of the Spanish government to the Archbishop’s Palace of Valencia, at a particular political moment, given that the Socialists were increasingly hampering the Church’s action in Spain. 

Unforgettable was the witness and festive Meeting with families, where he spoke and listened, and then presided over a multitudinous Eucharist, which closed the 5th World Meeting of Families in the modern city of Arts and Sciences of Valencia.

Munich, Altotting and Regensburg: speaking at home

As soon as Benedict XVI was able to plan a new trip he did so, from September 9-14, 2006, to the country of his birth, visiting places of his childhood, and of his life as a priest and professor. 

A significant meeting, in addition to those he had with the country’s leaders, was that with the Minister President of his native Bavaria, at the Royal Residence on Max-Joseph Square.   

Then he celebrated Vespers in Munich’s Cathedral, thus initiating a practice that would recur in his trips and Vatican activities – some of which were ecumenical — highlighting the richness of the Divine Office. 

During his visit to Germany, he returned to the University of Regensburg where he once taught, for the famous meeting with representatives of the world of science, where he said what he said about Mohammed. 

Someone else who expected him, with the table set and the warmth of home in Pentling, was his brother, canon Georg Ratzinger, with whom he spent a moment of family and rest. The meeting was crowned by their visit to the cemetery of Ziegetzdorf, to pray at their parents’ tomb. 

Turkey: Christian East and West

Many were the elements present in the Pope’s historic visit to a land of Muslim majority from November 28 to December 1, 2006. He thus crossed the continental borders to give a sign of rapprochement to Eastern Christianity, and to follow Paul’s steps in Ephesus, where he celebrated Mass. 

At the same time, however, the world was expecting a pronouncement on the Holy See’s position regarding Turkey’s entry into the European Union. Although the Turkish Prime Minister told the media that the Pope had agreed to his request, nodding his head, the Vatican’s official spokesmen never confirmed it. 

This land, rich in apostolic tradition, was the setting for a private meeting between the Pope and the patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, which was the beginning of a fruitful relationship throughout his pontificate. 

He also visited and prayed in the Apostolic Armenian Cathedral, and met with His Beatitude the Armenian patriarch Mesrob II. Other memorable meetings were those with the Syro-Orthodox Metropolitan and with the Grand Rabbi of Turkey. 

Many remember his symbolic visit to Ataturk’s Mausoleum, father of modern Turkey, where the Pope placed a floral wreath at his tomb and wrote a phrase in English that synthesized what his thought and work would be in the coming years: «In this land, crossroads of the different cultures and religions and bridge between Asia and Europe, I make my own the words of Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic, to express my wish: ‘Peace in the homeland, peace in the world.'»

Brazil: continent of hope and charity

On the occasion of the 5th General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate, held in Aparecida, Brazil, the Holy Father undertook his first transoceanic trip from May 9-14, 2007, and raised to the altar the Franciscan Blessed Antonio de Santa Ana, during a crowded Mass in Sao Paulo’s Campo de Marte. 

Remembered especially is the emotion the Pope felt on hearing the testimonies of former drug addicts, rescued by the community of the Farm of Hope in Guaratingueta, where he went. Also indelible was his embrace of children who ran to him, a scene that has become a photo-symbol of covers, books and on-line sites worldwide. 

The most important activity, for which the Pope had carefully prepared himself, was the Holy Mass and opening session of the 5th General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate, held in the esplanade in front of the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida. It was there that he had the opportunity to have the Latin American continent feel how close it was to his heart, and where he rechristened it the «Continent of Hope and of Charity.» 

Austria: Land of New Evangelization

The Holy Father’s main reason for his visit to Austria from September 7-9, 2007, was the celebration of the 850th anniversary of the foundation of the Shrine of Mariazell, where he celebrated a Mass that was attended by numerous faithful and pilgrims. It was the setting for Benedict XVI to begin to delineate his ideas of what would be a New Evangelization in the countries of ancient Christianity. 

He had a symbolic meeting with the monks of the Abbey of Heiligenkreuz, which is the oldest Cistercian monastery in the world, which has been active without a single interruption. 

At the end of his visit he addressed numerous volunteers of aid organizations
, who awaited him in the Wiener Konzerthaus. While there, the organizers surprised him with impeccable performances of his favorite composer, Austrian Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and the Vienna Boys Choir, gestures for which the Pope was grateful. 

The United States of America and the United Nations Organization: Yes to Life

Pope Benedict XVI crossed the ocean again, to visit North American lands from April 15-21, 2008, where he also addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York. 

On his arrival in the country, he was received by the President of the United States of America and the First Lady at Andrews Air Force Base, a gesture which was highlighted by the specialized press and the White House, as an exceptional event in the protocol of the Head of State. 

While in the capital, the Holy Father had important meetings, special among which was that with Catholic educators at the Catholic University of America, whom he encouraged in their difficult task of defending life. 

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York he appealed for the «protection of humanity,» and took leave of those present with a message of peace in several languages, which was received with admiration and respect. 

He also visited Ground Zero in New York, where he knelt down to pray for the victims and those responsible for the attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, on September 11, 2001.

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José Antonio Varela Vidal

Lima, Perú Periodista colegiado con ejercicio de la profesión desde 1993. Titulado en periodismo por la Universidad Jaime Bausate y Meza, de Lima. Estudios complementarios en filosofía, teología, periodismo religioso, new media y en comunicación pastoral e intercultural-misionera; así como en cooperación para el desarrollo y gerencia política. Con preparación adicional en pastoral urbana, doctrina social de la Iglesia, responsabilidad social empresarial, metodología activo-participativa, además de comunicación institucional y estratégica, desarrollados indistintamente en Lima, Quito, Bogotá, Roma, Miami, y Washington DC. Ha ejercido tareas como ejecutivo en oficinas de comunicación institucional en el sector público, privado y eclesial. Asimismo, gerente de Televisión de un canal y director de dos revistas impresas. Experiencia en la docencia universitaria, y en la dirección, producción y conducción de programas de radio, televisión y espacios online. Colabora con artículos, entrevistas y traducciones en ZENIT desde diciembre 2011.

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