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Welcome to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

Your Holiness,

Together with all the citizens who have gathered here in the park of Schloss Bellevue and on behalf of all the people of Germany I would like to warmly welcome you. Welcome to Germany! Welcome home!

Holy Father, you have come to your homeland.

You’ve come to a country whose history and culture are closely interwoven with the Christian faith and the struggle for this faith.

You’ve come to a country where resolute witnesses to faith like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Bern¬hard Lichtenberg and Edith Stein gave their lives in standing up against a criminal and godless regime.

You’ve come to a country which 22 years ago witnessed the miracle of a peaceful revolution and the restoration of the unity of our German fatherland and Europe. This could not have happened as it did without your courageous predecessor John Paul II, without the Catholic workers of Poland or the Christian churches in the former GDR, which offered a safe haven for those who sought freedom. I’m deeply grateful to all those who played a part in this.

You’ve come to a country where millions of men and women are motivated by their faith as they uphold commitments, day in and day out. A country where church-based youth work in particular helps so many young people learn to assume responsibility for themselves and others.

You’ve also come to a country where the Christian faith is no longer taken for granted, where the Church must find a new place for itself in a plural society. This is also evident here in our capital Berlin, where you’ve begun your visit.

Many people are searching for something. One of the great issues you engage with, Holy Father, is the relationship between faith and reason. The question is far from academic:

In the face of ecological and economic crises, in the face of discord and injustice in the world, in the face of experiences of personal uncertainty and uprootedness, the longing for meaning is growing. For churches and religious communities, this is not only a major opportunity but also a major responsibility.

This is also why it’s so important that the churches stay close to the people, that they resist retreating into themselves despite financial constraints and shortages of clergy. The care that the Christian churches of Germany are providing to the poor and vulnerable at home and abroad through Diakonie and Caritas is simply wonderful as well as indispensable to societal cohesion.

But it’s also true that when people experience this closeness and selfless dedication firsthand, they also hear Christian messages which are sometimes uncomfortable for them. Holy Father, your state¬ments on the protection of creation and human life, on how to treat people and things that are foreign to us, are an invaluable exhortation to a humane society. For this too I would like to offer my thanks to you and all the committed Christians of our country. Church and State are rightfully separate here in Germany. But the life of the Church is not a parallel society. The Church lives at the heart of this society, at the heart of this world, the heart of this era.

This is why it is also challenged with new issues time and again: How compassionately will it treat points of rupture in the lives of individuals? How will it approach points of rupture in its own history or the wrongdoing of members of its clergy? What are the respective roles of laypeople and clergy, women and men? What is the Church doing to overcome the split into Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox?

Germany is the place where the Reformation began. I am greatly pleased that tomorrow you will be travelling to Erfurt, an important site of the work of Martin Luther, where you will meet with representatives of the Evangelical Church in Germany and hold an Ecumenical Celebration with them. I firmly believe that it is what separates us, not what unites us, which requires an explanation. That’s why there’s much work to be done in this area.

I’m also pleased that the Catholic Church in Germany has begun a process of dialogue within its own ranks. I know from many conversations, especially in the lead-up to your visit, that dedicated laypeople are not the only ones with very high expectations for it. And the Church needs them all.

Your Holiness, Millions of people are looking to the coming days with the greatest joy and anticipation. Your visit will strengthen Christians and their dedication. And it will help all of us to find a sense of orientation and measure.

Permit me to once again extend my warmest welcome. May God bless your days here with us in Germany, your homeland! Welcome!