The Pope Comes Home: Benedict Criticizes Lack of Religiosity in Germany

Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Berlin on Thursday morning to kick-off a four-day trip to Germany. He was welcomed by President Christian Wulff and Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of a highly anticipated speech before the German parliament. He said he was unbothered by the massive criticism which preceded the visit.

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Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in Berlin. His Alitalia jet touched down at 10:16 a.m. at the German capital's Tegel airport and he was received by German President Christian Wulff, Chancellor Angela Merkel, members of her cabinet and representatives from the Catholic Church. He immediately made his way to Bellevue Palace, the German president's official residence, where he was officially welcomed by Wulff.

Dressed in a white robe and bright red shoes, the pope was greeted with a 21 gun salute. In the plane on the way to Berlin, the pope voiced understanding for the criticism which has preceded his visit. "That is normal in a free society," he said.

He also said that he was pleased to be coming to Germany. "I was born in Germany. Such roots cannot be severed, nor should they be," he said. He added that such roots should be maintained even when one becomes the head of the Catholic Church.

Upon arrival at Bellevue Palace, Benedict lamented the increasing indifference to religion. He said that a common basis is necessary for human cohabitation and added that "religion is one of the foundations for successful cooperation."

The pope is scheduled to be in Germany for four days and will include stops in Erfurt in eastern Germany and Freiburg in the far southwest. On Thursday, he will speak before the German parliament before making his way to the Olympic Stadium where he will celebrate mass before an anticipated audience of 70,000.

Criticism of His Papacy

It is Benedict's third trip to Germany, but his first official state visit. And it has been a hotly anticipated visit, with several politicians in Berlin voicing their expectations for the pope. Criticism of his papacy to date has also been widespread in the German media.

On the flight to Berlin from Rome, Benedict addressed the shrinking membership of the Catholic Church in Germany and called on Catholics in both Germany and around the world not to turn their backs on the Church as a result of the abuse scandal which has rocked the Vatican in recent years. He says he understands that victims of sexual abuse and their families might say "this is not my church anymore."

But, he added, the Church should be seen as an institution which catches both "good and bad fish" in the net of God. The Church, he said, needs to find ways to battle scandal and abuse. Last year, some 181,000 people left the Catholic Church in Germany -- more than ever before.

The pope is scheduled to travel back to the Vatican on Sunday.

cgh -- with wire reports

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