Germans Keep a Low Profile as Pope Is Installed

By Richard Boudreaux and Maria De Cristofaro

Los Angeles Times

April 25, 2005

VATICAN CITY -- Kamps Wallburger was kneeling in a chapel near Duesseldorf, Germany, last week when she heard the answer to her prayers: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had been elected the first German pope in a millennium.

"We decided within one hour to come to Rome," she recalled Sunday, her rosy cheeks beaming for her compatriot.

But as the 50-year-old teacher joined a huge crowd here in Italy for his installation as Pope Benedict XVI, Wallburger held only a tiny flag representing her small town of Kevelaer. She did not chant "Papst Benedekt" or yell anything in German or carry a placard to spell out her national pride.

Like her, tens of thousands of Germans poured in from over the Alps for Sunday's investiture Mass in St. Peter's Square but refrained from organizing a rooting section. That is not their style.

Instead, they were as reserved as their new 78-year-old pope. They blended into the multinational multitude, joining in as Italians led the chants for "Ben-e-DET-to! Ben-e-DET-to."

"His name sounds more beautiful in Italian," said Teresa Trauttmansdorff of Munich, Germany.

National sentiment is a new dimension of the modern papacy. In 1978, the election of the first Polish pontiff broke a 456-year Italian monopoly on the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, altering the makeup and behavior of crowds in the vast square outside St. Peter's Basilica.

Spirited Polish pilgrims would capture large sections of the square for some papal Masses, fluttering their red-and-white flags, chanting in their language and often eliciting a phrase or two in Polish from Pope John Paul II.

On Sunday, it would have been almost impossible to tell from looking at the crowd that John Paul's successor is German.

"There are still prejudices in the world," explained Wallburger, a devout, vivacious Catholic with short, blond hair. She came to Rome aware that Italians would be celebrating Liberation Day on Monday, the 60th anniversary of Nazi Germany's defeat at the end of World War II -- an era that reverberated last week with reminders of Benedict's membership in the Hitler youth movement.

Wallburger said she would leave Rome hoping the election of "this holy, humble man" will help overcome those prejudices.

It is a hope that seems to unite German Catholics across a sharp divide in the church over the former Cardinal Ratzinger's rigid defense of traditional moral teachings as John Paul's chief doctrinal enforcer.

"It is great that we have a German pope, although I think he is too old and too conservative," said Ina Stelzer, an 18-year-old student from Handrup, Germany.. "I go abroad and feel uncomfortable to say I am German. We cannot wave our flags the way other countries do. Maybe today can be a step toward changing this."

On Sunday, St. Peter's Square was a sea of flags -- the colors of the United States, Mexico, Brazil, South Korea, Switzerland, Croatia, Lebanon and many other countries. The blue-and-white checkered flag of Bavaria, the pope's home state, was far more in evidence than the red, yellow and black of Germany.

The most prominent German message had nothing to do with the pope. The banner simply read "Bis baldin Koln," or "See you soon in Cologne," site of this year's worldwide Catholic youth festival in August. Benedict has promised to attend.

"Look around and you see it clearly: This is a universal church," said Michael Alberts, 38, a Cologne resident who was holding one end of the 15-foot banner. "It is not really important that the pope is black or white, from Poland or Germany or Africa."

He added: "We are very happy he is pope. But he has the most difficult job in the world."

Following the charismatic John Paul will be especially hard. In his prime, the late pope addressed multilingual crowds in many tongues, often alternating among English, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and German. Although Benedict speaks several languages, he read his entire homily in Italian, leaving much of the crowd to guess at what he was saying.

"We just clapped when the Italians did," said Peter Lewis, a retired accountant from Wales.

Everyone seemed happy with the new pope's performance, although Catholics on both sides of the divide heard what they wanted to hear.

"He will keep women out of the priesthood," said Joseph Grezer, 67, a retired mechanic from Duesseldorf. "He will allow no experiments. Everything will remain the same, and this will be good for our church."