.- Pope Benedict XVI arrived in his native Germany today to celebrate World Youth Day 2005 with about 405,000 young people. The Holy Father landed at the Cologne/Bonn International Airport today at noon (GMT). Several hundred WYD pilgrims, staff and Catholic faithful welcomed the Pope with cheers and applause.
As he stepped off of the Alitalia plane, a strong wind blew off his zucchetto (skull cap). He turned around briefly to try to retrieve it but soon changed his mind and quickly walked down the steps to greet German President Horst Köhler and his wife.
In his welcoming address, Köhler noted that this is the first foreign trip for the new Pope. “Welcome home! Welcome to Germany!” the president said in his opening remarks. “We are delighted that your first official visit abroad has brought you here to Germany.”
The president, who professes the Protestant Christian faith, spoke about how Pope Benedict’s pontificate is a sign of reconciliation for the world.
“Following the Pope from Poland, the first country to be invaded by Germany during the Second World War, a member of the so-called flak helper generation has now been chosen as St Peter's successor,” he said. “This is for me a source of confidence – 60 years after the end of the inhuman and ungodly ideology, which prevailed in Germany.”
“Let me share a secret with you,” Köhler continued, “only a few minutes after your election, the Polish President Kwasniewski was the first to phone me and congratulate us.”
The president also spoke of the important work that Christian churches and movements are doing in Germany to support and educate young people.
Pope Benedict thanked WYD organizers, and the people’s warm welcome.
“With deep emotion I thank God who has enabled me to begin my pastoral visits outside Italy with this visit to the nation of my birth,” he said. “I am sincerely grateful to all present for the warm welcome given to me”
He greeted the young people and said their presence in Cologne is “a sign of the Church’s vitality.”
“I am happy to be with them, to confirm their faith and to enliven their hope,” he said. “At the same time, I am sure that I will also receive something from them, especially from their enthusiasm, their sensitivity and their readiness to face the challenges of the future.”
“These meetings are important steps along the journey of dialogue and cooperation in our shared commitment to building a more just and fraternal future, a future which is truly more human,” he said.
After his address, the Pope shook hands with some of the young people who had come to greet him, some of them were in wheelchairs, and he lingered to hear the young people sing. He then left for the archbishop’s residence in Cologne, led by a motorcade of police officers, for a short rest.
At 4:45 p.m., Pope Benedict is expected to take a one-hour cruise ride along the Rhine River and address the young people, gathered on the Poll Rhine Meadows, from his boat.
The Pope spoke of his scheduled visit to a Jewish synagogue, which was rebuilt after being destroyed during the Second World War, and meeting with the Muslim community.