Descending from his Alitalia jet to the cheers of thousands gathered in a small greeting area setup on the tarmac, the Pope strode past German military guards, accompanied by President Köhler. The Pontiff stood at attention as he was granted the full military welcome of a visiting head of state, his white cassock blowing about in the wind.
The Pope shook hands and exchanged quick words with the men, women, and children lining his path as he and the president worked their way to a temporary stage flanked by German, Bavarian, and European Union flags, whipping in the wind.
The German president welcomed the Pope, speaking glowingly of the first years of his Pontificate. Köhler, who is Protestant, recalled the “moving experience” of last year’s World Youth Day, held in Cologne. The president remarked at the “powerful presence” of the Catholic Church in Germany and spoke hopefully of the ongoing process of ecumenical dialogue.
Following Köhler’s words of welcome, the Pope reflected briefly on the purpose of his trip. “Conscious of how much I have received,” Benedict said, “I have come here above all to express my deep gratitude towards all those who helped shape me as a person.”
But, the Pope continued, “I also come here as the Successor of the Apostle Peter, to reaffirm and strengthen the deep bonds linking the See of Rome and the Church in our native land.”
Benedict reminded everyone of the tremendous history of the Catholic faith in Germany and particularly in Bavaria. A history, he said, which has been constantly nourished by firm adherence to Christian values.
He also noted that the faith history of the country “is witnessed to by famous monuments, majestic cathedrals, statues and paintings of great artistic value, literary works, cultural initiatives and above all, the many individual and community events which reflect the Christian beliefs of successive generations in this Land which is so dear to me.”
The Pontiff insisted that although society has changed, it is important to continue passing on the faith to younger generations.
“I think we are all united in the hope that new generations will remain faithful to the spiritual patrimony which has withstood all the crises of history. My visit to the land of my birth is meant to be an encouragement in this regard: Bavaria is a part of Germany; sharing in the ups and downs of Germany’s history, and has good reason to be proud of the traditions inherited from the past. My hope is that all my compatriots in Bavaria and throughout Germany will play an active part in the transmission of the fundamental values of the Christian faith to the citizens of tomorrow.”
The Pope concluded his remarks expressing his desire to someday visit other parts of Germany and thanking all those who have worked to prepare for his visit. He offered a greeting to all Germans, noting that he was not only thinking of Catholics, but Lutherans, Orthodox Christians, and members of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities as well as “all people of good will.”
“May the Lord bless the efforts of all those concerned to build a future of true well-being for the good of the whole nation,” the Pope said, entrusting his intentions to the Blessed Virgin Mary through a traditional Bavarian prayer. “Preserve, O Virgin and Patroness, your Bavarian people, their goods, their government, their land and their religion!”
The Pope then departed for downtown Munich, where he will offer a special prayer at the Marian statue in the city’s central square.
Pope Benedict XVI offered words of thanks and encouragement today, as he began his trip through the land of his birth. The Pontiff was greeted, upon his arrival in Munich, by German President Horst Köhler, Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Bavarian Minister-President Edmund Stoiber, as well as various members of the German Catholic hierarchy and numerous other officials.