Sunday, September 10, 2006

"My Heart Beats Bavarian"

Comparing himself to the "beast of burden" which marks his coat of arms, the Bavarian Pope kicked off his homecoming tour of Germany's largest state yesterday afternoon in the shadow of the "Mariensaule" column in the city's central square.

Appropriately enough, local organizers chose as the theme for the visit a line from Benedict XVI's inaugural homily: "He who believes is never alone."
The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger then turned to the crowds of faithful present. “I greet all of you with great love, my dear compatriots and friends, who have gathered in this square to demonstrate your affection! I thank you for your warm welcome, and I think in particular of all those who have worked to prepare for this meeting and the whole of my journey.”

The Pope then assured the people, who were once part of his archdiocesan flock, that he remains with them now that he is Shepherd of the Universal Church.

Benedict explained the important role that Saint Corbinian, the historic bishop of the region has played in his life. “From my childhood, I was very much taken with the story that a bear had attacked and killed the horse which the saint was riding on a journey to Rome,” the Pope recounted. “According to the legend, the saint punished the bear by putting on his back the load that the horse had been carrying. So the bear had to carry this load across the Alps all the way to Rome, and only there did the saint set him free.”

“In 1977, when I had to face the difficult choice whether or not to accept my appointment as Archbishop of Munich and Freising, knowing that it would take me away from my beloved work at the university, this bear with its heavy burden reminded me of Saint Augustine’s interpretation of verses 22 and 23 of Psalm 73.”

Augustine, he said, spoke of the Psalms words, “I was foolish and did not understand, standing before you like a dumb animal. Nevertheless I am continually with you.”

He, like Augustine, saw in the word, “‘animal’ a reference to the beasts of burden used by farmers to work the land,” and the burden of the Episcopal ministry.

Benedict recalled how he, like Augustine, left a life of scholarship to take on the burden of the episcopacy, but found enlightenment and consolation in the image of the “beast of burden…for just as the beast of burden is closest to the farmer and, under his direction, carries out the burdensome work entrusted to him, so the Bishop is very close to God, because he carries out an important service for his Kingdom.”
For those of you who know the end of Cardinal Ratzinger's Milestones, this line of thought is nothing new. Given the passage of time and events since its 1997 release, however, it's become much more profound.

The emotion of the trip is evident, with more than just a faint din of wonder as to whether the native son -- who had hoped to be retired to the quiet house he built in Pentling by now -- will ever be able to return again. In his homily at this morning's liturgy, the Pope said that the purpose of the visit was to thank "all those, living and deceased" who taught him "how to believe and how to live" in his formative years, and to "thank God for this country [Bavaria] and for having made it my homeland."

When he goes to the place he's called his "true home" on Wednesday -- to spend but eight hours there -- he'll be in the company of its other occupant, his brother Msgr Georg Ratzinger. In a radio interview, the Papstbruder had some poignant observations on Pentling:
"[O]ne of the things that I would really like to do with him is walk up and down in his garden, like we always did when he came to visit," Msgr. Ratzinger told the radio section of St. Michael's Federation, the media division of the Catholic Church in Bavaria. "Also, I would like to walk around his house with him, because here in Bavaria, we say that when you walk around your house, that is when you know you are really home."

However, Msgr. Ratzinger, 82, said he is not sure this will be possible.

"I don't know how many people will be there and whether they will be lining the fences. If so, then it certainly would not be right to parade in front of them," he said.
The public has been asked to stay away from the Regensburg suburb to allow Benedict some private time.... Here's hoping they do, but while optimism is one thing, reality is quite another.

Brother Georg, the retired director of the famed choir of Regensburg Cathedral (where an ecumenical vespers service will be celebrated by the Pope on Tuesday evening), also had some words on the priestly vocation of the brothers Ratzinger, who were ordained together on 29 June 1951.
He said their parents were pleased when both boys announced that they wanted to become priests, "but they did not push us into priesthood, and they would have supported us in whatever career we would have chosen."

At the time of Pope Benedict's priestly ordination in the Freising cathedral in 1951, both brothers were filled with idealism and expectations, Msgr. Ratzinger said.

"We were not in this asking 'What is in it for me,'" he said, "but because we wanted to serve. We were willing to serve in whatever manner, go wherever the bishop would send us, although we both had our preferences, of course. I was hoping for a calling related to my interest in music, and my brother had prepared himself from a theological-science point of view. But we were not in this to indulge in our personal hobbies. We said yes to priesthood to serve, in whatever way was needed, and it was a blessing we both got to follow church careers that were also in accordance with our secret wishes at the time."

Msgr. Ratzinger said it was not easy when his brother, who is three years younger than he is, was called to Munich as archbishop of the Munich-Freising Archdiocese.

"For me, it was difficult," he said, "because our Sunday afternoons together were no longer possible as they had been when he was still at Regensburg. Also, during church holidays, he was now needed in Munich, and so we could not celebrate them together as we used to. But, like when he became pope, I respect his calling and where it leads him. It was for this that we said yes to priesthood."
Beyond the private moments, the public emotional high-points of this very personal trip will likely be two. Monday's visit to the shrine of the Bavarian patroness Our Lady of Altotting -- a town often described as "Germany's Lourdes" -- will be Ratzinger's return to a place which has marked his life and faith from his early childhood, when he was brought there by his parents. "I was lucky to be born near Altotting," Benedict once said. "The pilgrimages there with my parents and siblings are among my first and most beautiful memories." The schedule reflects this; a very full day there includes an open-air Mass, Eucharistic procession and a Vespers service.

The other will be the Pope's last stop before returning to Rome -- Freising's Cathedral of St Mary and St Corbinian, where the Ratzingers were ordained to the priesthood, and not far from the institute where the star theologian's teaching career began in 1954. A Liturgy of the Word will be held in the historic church with the priests of Munich and Freising, which Cardinal Ratzinger headed from his 1977 ordination as its archbishop until his departure for Rome and the Congregation for the Doctine of the Faith in February, 1982.

Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
PHOTO 2: AP/Diether Endlicher
PHOTO 3: Maurizio Brambatti/Pool
PHOTO 4: Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay