Pope Benedict arrives in native Germany

Aug. 18 (CWNews.com) - Pope Benedict XVI arrived at the Bonn/Cologne airport just before noon today, beginning the first foreign trip of his pontificate and preparing for his first appearance as Pontiff at World Youth Day.

Speaking to reporters who accompanied him on the flight from Rome, the Holy Father said that he was already feeling the emotions of a return trip to his native Germany, and looking forward to meeting with WYD participants. "It's an extraordinary event when the youth of all parts of the world and all cultures come together in unity in the search for truth, unity in the love of Jesus Christ," he said.

As he arrived in Germany, amid very heavy airport security, the Pope was warmly applauded by young people, who had filled several buses for the trip to greet the Pontiff. Crowds of young people had arrived earlier in the morning, pressing against barriers at the airport as they awaited the arrival of the Alitalia jet carrying the Holy Father. As the time of his scheduled flight drew closer, the chant of "Benedetto" arose repeatedly from the crowd-- composed mostly of German youths, with many Italians as well.

Shortly before noon, local political and religious leaders arrived as well, preparing for a formal greeting ceremony. Cardinals Joachim Meisner and Karl Lehmann were on hand, along with President Horst Kohler of the German republic and various other dignitaries.

When the flight touched down-- to new shouts of "Benedetto"-- the journalists on the flight were allowed to exit through a rear door before Pope Benedict made his appearance at the front.

"Welcome home; welcome to Germany," President Kohler said when he and the Pope had taken their place at a pair of microphones set up for the welcoming ceremony. Kohler remarked that "in this era marked by the fear of terrorism and violence done for supposed religious motives, it is particularly good to have the experience of faith and religion as supporting peace and humanity." He paid tribute to "the powerful witness of a humane faith, respectful of man-- a faith that can affirm that we are all children of God and share in a single world."

The German leader's long introductory talk was warmly applauded, but the applause built to a crescendo as the Pope prepared to speak.

"With great joy I find myself, for the first time since my election to the chair of St. Peter, in my beloved homeland," Pope Benedict said. "I thank God, who has made it possible for me to begin my pastoral trips outside Italy with this visit to the land of my birth."

The Pope's talk was repeatedly interrupted by applause, and he was forced to gesture for quiet, smiling, in order to continue.

After paying homage to Pope John Paul II  as the "unforgettable" central figure in every previous World Youth Day, Pope Benedict thanked the German organizers of this year's event, and the civic authorities whose cooperation has made it possible.

Next the Holy Father spoke of the "rich patrimony of Germany," which "even today, in the heart of Europe, bears witness to the fecundity of the faith and the Christian tradition." He mentioned some of the great Christian witnesses of the region around Cologne, including St. Boniface, St. Ursula, St. Albert the Great, and St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). The 20th WYD in Cologne, he said, would be a new "sign of the Church's vitality" in Germany.

As he concluded his introductory remarks, the Pope asked his listeners to pray for the success of World Youth Day and for the future of the Church in Germany. He prayed, too, for the host nation; "God protect the Federal Republic of Germany," he said.