Open-air mass wraps up Pope's first state 'home' visit

25th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Pope Benedict XVI was to hold a mass for around 80,000 faithful in Germany's Catholic heartland Sunday amid widespread disappointment over his first state visit to his native country.

Protestants, Jews and groups representing people who suffered abuse at the hands of Catholic priests all expected more from the trip which has taken the 84-year-old pontiff from Berlin to Erfurt in eastern Germany and finally Freiburg in the southwest in a gruelling four days.

For Protestants, Benedict has failed to come up with concrete action to heal the 500-year-old rift between the Catholic and Lutheran Churches, which each have about 24 million members in Germany.

The head of the Lutheran Church, Nikolaus Schneider, said that while the two sides "really listened to each other ... our hearts are burning for more."

And Christine Lieberknecht, premier of Thuringia, the state that played host to the pope on Friday and Saturday, said many had yearned for more from his stay.

Benedict visited the Augustinian monastery of Erfurt, where Martin Luther trained as a priest before his 1517 schism with Rome led to the enduring split in western Christianity.

Some Protestants had hoped the pontiff would rehabilitate Luther, who was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic church, or ease restrictions on Protestant spouses sharing communion in Catholic services.

But the pope indicated such expectations were exaggerated.

In the run-up to his trip, "there was some talk of an 'ecumenical gift' which was expected from this visit," he said.

"There is no need for me to specify the gifts mentioned in this context. Here I would only say that this reflects a political misreading of faith and of ecumenism."

Germany's Jewish community also appeared to expect more from the pope's visit.

The head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, said topics such as Saint Pius X brotherhood and the sanctification of World War II-era Pope Pius XII continue to raise hackles.

Benedict offended the Jewish community in Germany when he lifted the excommunication of a member of the Pius brotherhood who denied the Holocaust.

In a series of interviews published in a book last year, he said that he would not have done this had he known about the bishop's views on the Nazis' murder of six million Jews.

And plans to beatify Pope Pius XII -- whose public silence on the Holocaust has been widely criticised -- "would further hurt our feelings and disappoint us," Graumann said after a meeting with the pontiff in Berlin Thursday.

A keenly awaited element of Benedict's visit was his meeting with victims who suffered abuse by Roman Catholic clergy, as he had on previous trips to Britain, Malta, the United States and Australia.

A Vatican statement released after the meeting described Benedict as being "moved and deeply shaken by the suffering of the victims... (and) expressed his deep compassion and regret over all that was done to them and their families."

But victims' groups were unappeased.

Peter Bringmann-Henselder, from a group representing those abused by paedophile priests, said the meeting was "a slap in the face, because there were no actions."

"The Vatican should open up its archives, where the abuse is documented. They should finally be investigated. It doesn't mean anything, in our eyes, for the pope to meet a few people who have stayed true to the Church," he said.

"Many people left the Church and he does not want to meet those who left."

US-based group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) was similarly unimpressed.

"The popes meeting will do nothing to stop priests from molesting kids or bishops from concealing crimes," it said.

Around 25,000 people lined the streets in blazing sunshine in the historic centre of this picturesque university town when the pope arrived on Saturday afternoon.

Security is high, with most of Freiburg's city centre heavily cordoned off for the entire weekend and around 5,000 police officers deployed.

The pope is to hold an open-air mass starting at 0800 GMT for an expected 84,000 at an airfield, fewer than the 100,000 announced ahead of the visit, before returning to Rome at the end of the day.

© 2011 AFP

0 Comments To This Article