A smiling Pope Benedict XVI entered the Paul VI Hall yesterday morning for a meeting with thousands of his fellow Germans, shaking hands with many of them as he walked down the center aisle before taking his seat. His brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, was also present at this audience, as were many German seminarians, priests, religious and lay faithful who shouted his name, first in Italian and then in German, and "Viva il Papa! Long Live the Pope."
In both his prepared speech and off-the-cuff remarks, the Pope asked his countrymen, to forgive him for being late, stating he knew that punctuality was a hallmark of Germans but adding that he had, however, lived in Italy for 23 years and had perhaps "become Italianized." In a reference to his origins, he said that, although he is now the bishop of Rome, he remains "a Bavarian" at heart. He highlighted in his speech the ties that have linked Bavaria and Rome over the centuries.
Benedict XVI then spoke of the conclave that elected him as the 264th Successor to Peter. "Without violating the oath of secrecy," he said, "I never thought I would be elected, nor did I do anything to promote this." When it became clear that he would be the new Pope, he said, he recalled a letter from a cardinal who reminded him that the theme of his homily at the funeral of Pope John Paul came from the Lord's call to His disciples: "Follow me." And the then Cardinal Ratzinger had added, "when the Lord calls, we must answer." "The ways of the Lord," said the Holy Father, "are not easy, but we are not made for an easy life and therefore I could only say 'yes'."
He repeated what he said at the April 24 Mass to inaugurate his pontificate, namely that the Church "is not old but young." He added, to great applause, that he would indeed be in Cologne, Germany with young people in August for World Youth Day.
At the end of his speech, Pope Benedict XVI asked his fellow countrymen to walk together with him, to pray for him and to have faith in him. -V.I.S.