Back in Germany... and Into a Storm
Earlier today saw Benedict XVI arrive in Berlin for a four-day journey that's been described as perhaps the German Pope's most daunting trek home. Unlike Joseph Ratzinger's prior returns as Pope, this visit will take him away from the country's traditional Catholic strongholds of Cologne and the pontiff's native Bavaria, focusing instead this time on its secularized capital and the Protestant heartland born of the Reformation.
Underscoring the challenge that awaits when it comes to Catholicity on this trip's turf, the pontiff's two civil hosts for the visit are the country's President Christian Wulff, a civilly-remarried Catholic, and Berlin's Mayor Klaus Wowereit, an openly-gay member of the fold who was re-elected to a third five-year term last week. On the wider front, meanwhile, this afternoon's papal address to the Bundestag -- the lower house of the German parliament -- is set to be boycotted by some 100 members of the 622-seat body.
In a video message aired over national TV last weekend, the Pope sought to frame the journey in these terms:
None of this is religious tourism and much less a "show." The motto of these days tells us what it is: "Where God is, there is a future." It must focus on the fact that God returns to our world, this God who often seems totally absent, of whom we have dire need.Having been welcomed by Wulff at the Presidential Residence at Bellevue Castle earlier today -- hours after the head of state said in an interview that the church's policy on admitting civilly-remarried Catholics to the sacraments should be loosened -- the pontiff will address the Bundestag at 4.15pm Berlin time (10.15am Eastern), followed by the day's climactic 6.30pm Mass in the city's Olympic Stadium.
Perhaps you will ask me: "But does God exist? And if he exists, does he care about us? Can we reach him?" It is true of course that we cannot put God on the table, we cannot touch him like a utensil or take him in hand like any object. We must again develop the capacity to perceive God, a capacity that exists in us. We can intuit something of God's grandeur in the grandeur of the cosmos. We can use the world through technology because it is made in a rational manner. In the great rationality of the world we can intuit the creator spirit from which it comes, and in the beauty of creation we can intuit something of the beauty, of the grandeur and also the goodness of God. In the Word of sacred Scriptures we can hear the words of eternal life that do not come merely from men, but that come from him, and in them we hear his voice. And, finally, we glimpse God too in encounters with persons who are touched by him. I am not thinking only of the great ones: from Paul to Francis of Assisi to Mother Teresa; but I am thinking of the many simple people of whom no one speaks. And yet, when we meet them, there emanates something of goodness, sincerity, joy, and we know that God is there and that he touches us too. So, in these days we want to try to return to seeing God, to return to being persons through whom the light of hope might enter the world, a light that comes from God and helps us to live.
As ever, the Vatican HD-stream with options for live and on-demand video, plus "clean" audio or translations in five languages, is up and running. The major texts will drop here on delivery, along with whatever else of note comes along.
PHOTOS: AP(1); Getty(2)