New York Times
August 18, 2005
COLOGNE, Germany, Aug. 18 - Benedict XVI returned today to his "beloved homeland" of Germany, in his first trip abroad as pope, making his entrance to this city in a boat on the Rhine cheered on by tens of thousands of young Catholics who had gathered for a huge festival of faith.
"To all of you I appeal, Open wide your hearts to God!" he said from the upper deck of the boat, to crowds of young people here for World Youth Day, some of them hip deep in the murky river for a closer look at the new pope. "Let yourself be surprised by Christ! Let him have 'the right of free speech' during these days!"
His four-day trip is a considered a major test of his new papacy, and he has already signaled some of his priorities: he will meet with Jewish and Muslim leaders, as part of his declared commitment to inter-religious relations. At the same time, he will also speak much about Christianity in Europe and his aim to revive the faith on an ever-more-secular continent.
But in many ways, this trip seems likely to be judged on how the 78-year-old Benedict, a shy, cerebral and unstagey man, connects with half a million or more young Catholics at an event founded in 1984 by his charismatic predecessor, John Paul II, who put a particular emphasis on the young.
Judging by the numbers for this 20th World Youth Day, the new pope does not have trouble drawing a crowd: Some 400,000 young people from all over the world registered to come, a high number compared to other World Youth Days. Organizers say they expect 800,000 people to attend the closing Mass on Sunday outside Cologne.
And the crowds here - waving flags from dozens of countries around the world - greeted him joyously, amid tight security and a small flotilla of police boats on the river. Young people chanted his name as the boat passed by, some holding up banners with messages like, "We are with you, Benedetto!"
While some seemed to know little about the new pope, some spoke with approval of his orthodox views, expressed in 24 years as defender of the faith.
"As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, he was like the church's bulldog - he was putting the smackdown on heresy," said Pedro Russell, a 21-year-old Montanan who had both green-dyed hair and a rosary around his neck.
"Personally I am looking forward to that," he said. "There were a lot of slightly misguided teachings that I grew up with. Knowing that there is somebody up there who has made his entire cardinal's career out of straightening out those heresies and defending the true solid teachings of the church is something I am very, very excited for the youth."
Benedict has reportedly expressed some discomfort with large papal events, which were one hallmark of John Paul's papacy, and has sought in several ways to turn the spotlight away from him personally. But he often paid warm tribute to both the event and to his old boss and friend, John Paul.
"Today it is my turn to take up this extraordinary spiritual legacy bequeathed to us by John Paul II," he said from the boat, his white cassock blowing in a breeze, in an address he gave in German, Italian, French, English and Spanish.
"He loved you - you realized that and you returned his love with your all your youthful enthusiasm," he said. "Now all of us together have to put his teaching into practice."
The pope left Rome at 10 a.m., and before takeoff he spoke briefly to reporters traveling with him. He said he was "very moved" going to Germany: The event had been planned before he was selected pope, and it is only by coincidence that his first trip was to his native county. He grew up in Bavaria, was a star theology professor and served as archbishop of Munich.
"It's a very extraordinary event," he told reporters in discussing World Youth Day. "Young people from all over the world, and from all cultures, are coming together in the search for the truth. They are united in their love for Jesus Christ, and thus are a force for peace in the world today."
The plane arrived right on schedule at noon. When the pope stepped outside, the wind whipped off his white skull cap and blew it back into the plane. He did not kiss the ground, as John Paul II did on his first official visit to any country.
The pope was greeted by an honor guard and received by President Horst Koehler. The German president spoke with pride in his nation that Benedict, who served in the German army during World War II and was a brief and unwilling inductee into the Hitler Youth, was now pope.
"This for me is a source of confidence, 60 years after the end of the inhuman and ungodly ideology which prevailed in Germany," he said.