On a sunny, but windy Munich afternoon the Popemobile wound its way through the city’s streets, lined all the way with cheering faithful waving Vatican and Bavarian flags and chanting “Benedetto! Benedetto!”
The German Pontiff, dressed in his white cassock, scarlet mozzetta, and Pontifical stole, also bore an enormous smile, waving and extending his hands outward in an open embrace to those gathered.
Following a greeting from Edmund Stoiber, President-Minster of Bavaria, and Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, who succeeded Benedict as Archbishop of Munich and Freising, the Pontiff addressed the crowd, emphasizing the significance Munich’s “Mariensäule” (Column of Mary) has played in his life.
“It is very moving for me to stand once more in this beautiful square at the foot of the Mariensäule – in a place which already witnessed two other decisive turning-points in my life,” the Pope declared.
“Here, almost thirty years ago, the faithful welcomed me with joy as their new Archbishop: I then began my ministry with a prayer to the Mother of God. Here too, five years later, after being called to Rome by the Pope, I bade farewell to my Diocese and once more addressed a prayer to the Patrona Bavariae, entrusting ‘my’ city and homeland to her protection.”
“Today I am here again – this time as the Successor of Saint Peter.”
The Pope greeted Stoiber, Wetter, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as the other leaders and officials present. He also offered particular welcome to the many priests of the archdiocese, gathered in the square.
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.”
“With these words of the Bishop of Hippo in mind, I have found in Saint Corbinian’s bear a constant encouragement to carry out my ministry with confidence and joy – thirty years ago, and again now in my new task – and to say my daily ‘yes’ to God”
“I have become for you a beast of burden, but as such ‘I am always with you’ (Ps 73:23).”
Benedict noted that unlike St. Corbinian’s bear (which is represented in his Pontifical coat of arms) he was not set free in Rome, but kept in service. “And so,” he said, “I find myself once more at the foot of the Mariensäule, imploring the intercession and blessing of the Mother of God, this time not only for the city of Munich and for Bavaria, but for the universal Church and for all people of good will.”
Following a hymn by the Cathedral Choir of Munich, the Holy Father offered the following prayer to Mary:
Holy Mother of the Lord!
Our ancestors, at a time of trouble, set up your statue here, in the very heart of Munich, and entrusted the city and country to your care. They wanted to meet you again and again along the paths of their daily life, and to learn from you the right way to live, to find God and to live in harmony. They gave you a crown and a scepter, which at that time were symbols of dominion over the country, because they knew that power and dominion would then be in good hands - in the hands of a Mother.
Your Son, just before his farewell to his disciples, said to them: "Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all" (Mk 10:43-44). At the decisive hour in your own life, you said: "Here I am, the servant of the Lord" (Lk 1:38). You lived your whole life as service. And you continue to do so throughout history. At Cana, you silently and discreetly interceded for the spouses, and so you continue to do. You take upon yourself people’s needs and concerns, and you bring them before the Lord, before your Son. Your power is goodness. Your power is service.
Teach us - great and small alike - to carry out our responsibilities in the same way. Help us to find the strength to offer reconciliation and forgiveness. Help us to become patient and humble, but also free and courageous, just as you were at the hour of the Cross. In your arms you hold Jesus, the Child who blesses, the Child who is also the Lord of the world. By holding the Child who blesses, you have yourself become a blessing. Bless us, this city and this country! Show us Jesus, the blessed fruit of your womb! Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen!
The Pontiff then sang along with Bavarian hymns and returned to his Popemobile, the glowing smile never leaving his face.
This evening the Pope will visit with various federal and regional officials at the Royal Palace of Munich. The Pontiff will spend the night at the Archbishop’s residence and rest for Sunday’s events, which will include a large public Mass and Vespers at the Cathedral of Munich.
Following a brief visit to Munich’s Georgianum Seminary, Pope Benedict arrived at the city’s central square to the cheers of countless Bavarians. The Pope greeted the citizens of Munich, the city where he once served as archbishop, and assured them that he remains with them, becoming for them “a beast of burden.”