Pope met by 70,000 faithful on first official visit home
Sex abuse, ethics and Nazism raised in speech
Published 23/09/2011 | 05:00
ON the first state visit to his native Germany as Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI was met with rapturous applause -- first from lawmakers and later at a rainy Munich stadium packed with 70,000 faithful.
Greeted with a banner "Welcome Home", the 84-year-old strove to stem the tide of Catholics abandoning the church in the wake of clerical sex abuse scandals in his homeland. He humbly acknowledged the disillusionment, with the reminder that there are both "good and bad fish in the Lord's net".
Shortly before leaving for Berlin, the Pope had called for "an ever-more intense ethical renewal for the good of beloved Italy", in what was interpreted as a coded attack on the scandals engulfing Silvio Berlusconi and his government.
The comment -- in a telegram to Giorgio Napolitano, the Italian president, who has also spoken about the decline in standards among elected officials -- comes as Prime Minister Berlusconi (74) faces accusations that he paid for sex with a string of prostitutes and showgirls at his private residences in Rome, Milan and Sardinia.
Later, in the first-ever address by a pope to Germany's parliament, the Bavarian-born Pontiff reminded Germany's lawmakers, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, that religion was a foundation for successful society and said its values were essential for freedom.
Speaking at the historic Reichstag building, Pope Benedict warned that politicians must not sacrifice ethics for power and recalled the Nazi excesses of his homeland as a lesson in history.
"A clear look at the past, even at its dark pages, enables us to learn from it and to receive an impetus for the present," the Pope said. "We Germans know from our own experience," he added.
In the evening he arrived to celebrate a mass at the Olympic stadium, a legacy of the Nazi era.
His Mercedes popemobile slowly toured around the blue athletic track ahead of the service as ecstatic crowds waved banners and sleeping babies were passed for a blessing.
Protests which had been predicted to number in excess of 20,000 people failed to attract such support and instead only a few hundred gathered at points along his route brandishing banners with slogans against the visit.
Around 100 MPs had also boycotted the event at the 622-seat parliament, complaining it "violated Germany's separation of church and state".
In a meeting with Jewish leaders, the Pope, who as a young man was conscripted into the Hitler Youth, again made mention of Germany's darkest era.
"The supposedly 'almighty' Adolf Hitler was a pagan idol who wanted to take the place of the Biblical God," he said.
"What man is capable of when he rejects God, and what the face of a people can look like when it denies God, the terrible images from the concentration camps at the end of the war showed."