Pope Benedict in Germany
NOAH ADAMS, host:
Pope Benedict XVI celebrated mass today in Munich, capital of his native Bavaria. He's on a six-day nostalgic trip to the places in Germany that shaped his life. But the 79-year-old pontiff also hopes his visit will re-energize Christian faith in a country where only 14 percent of Catholics regularly attend mass.
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli joins us now from Munich. Sylvia, tell us how Germans there in Bavaria have received the pope. I bet they're really happy to see him.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Well, you know, Bavaria is Germany's conservative, Catholic heartland and he's getting really a rousing welcome. He was visibly moved today as he arrived at the altar platform for the mass on the city outskirts and crowds cheered and welcomed home their favorite son.
On the plane before landing, he told reporters, my heart beats Bavarian. And he has said he's filled with many warm memories of the people and events that left deep traces in him. His stops include his birthplace in a small town in Regensburg, the city where he taught theology and where his brother, Georg Ratzinger, still lives. And on Wednesday his schedule will be private. He's going to join his brother to visit their parents' grave.
ADAMS: We mentioned that Catholicism there and in many other places does not appear to be very vibrant these days. What does Benedict hope to achieve on his visit back to Germany?
POGGIOLI: Well, you know, the loss of faith in Europe is his biggest concern. All four of his trips as pope have been in Europe. He addressed the issue of growing secularization directly in his homily today at the open-air mass. He spoke of the hardness of hearing God. He said that there are too many frequencies filling our ears and he said this leads to a loss of perception.
And he acknowledged that faith is stronger in the Third World. He said people in Africa and Asia are frightened by the West's form of rationality, which he said totally excludes God from man's vision.
But he'll have a tough job in getting Germans back in church. More than 100,000 people officially leave the Catholic Church every year. Many Germans are very critical of his conservative positions on priestly celibacy, birth control, and the role of women in the church. Like his predecessor, Benedict draws big outdoor crowds, as he did last year in Cologne for World Youth Day. But apparently that event did not have a lasting effect. It did not propel more Germans to fill church pews and be active in parishes.
ADAMS: Speaking of Cologne last year, he went to a synagogue at that time. Will he go to a synagogue on this trip, do you think?
POGGIOLI: It's not on the schedule. There's nothing on the schedule. That visit was fraught with symbolism. Here was a German pope who grew up under the Nazis and was forced to join the Hitler Youth as a teenager and assist anti-aircraft gunners. Last year he warned against rising anti-Semitism in Germany. But it's not known whether this time he'll address the issue of the legacy of Germany's past. And there's no scheduled visit to the Nazi concentration camp at nearby Dachau.
ADAMS: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli talking with us from Munich. Thank you, Sylvia.
POGGIOLI: Thank you, Noah.
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