Is the pope planning another trip to Germany?
When journalists are all looking one way, a good reporter loves to find a scoop somewhere else. Most religion journalists (uncluding us) are naturally gearing up for the first papal visit to the United States, coming up April 15-20. The popular German daily Bild seems to have scooped us all with its report today that Pope Benedict is planning to visit his native Germany next year.
We’ve asked at the Vatican and they said the pope’s 2009 travel schedule had not yet been worked out. They don’t usually confirm trips until a few months before them anyway, so it is unlikely we’ll hear anything firm from them anytime soon. Reuters wouldn’t put out a story on this without official confirmation, but we can tell you here about this report.
Bild, which is often very well informed, has quite a bit of detail, a telltale sign they probably got this from German officials involved in the planning. It says Benedict is due to visit Berlin and Erfurt in the ex-communist east on his third trip to Germany as pope (after the Cologne World Youth Day in 2005 and Bavaria in 2006). The Eichsfeld region near Erfurt is one of the few Catholic areas in eastern Germany.
“The premier of Thuringia state, Dieter Althaus, this morning handed over the invitation, which was coordinated with the German president, to the pope. And he accepted it gladly!” the daily wrote in a story posted on its website.
“As Bild.de has learned, Pope Benedict XVI will probably come in the second half of April to Germany. An arrival in Berlin, meeting with the German president and government as well as Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit are planned.
“In the tradition of John Paul II, who held his famous ‘freedom speech’ at the Brandenburg Gate in 1996, his successor will also dignify this historic place. He may also give a speech… His arrival is planned for a Friday evening and he is supposed to fly by helicopter on Saturday morning to Heiligenstadt in Thuringia. He will presumably be met on the grounds of Scharfenstein Castle in Eichsfeld by thousands of the faithful for a Mass. The pope will also say his Sunday Angelus prayer there.
Afterwards it’s off to Erfurt. The Cathedral Hill there is a powerful symbol of the Catholic self-confidence in Eichsfeld, where Catholic Christians resisted the system both during the Nazi era and the East German dictatorship. The departure for Rome is planned from Erfurt.
“During his visit to his native Bavaria, critics called on Benedict to visit eastern Germany. Now Christians in eastern Germany will have their own papal visit!”
UPDATE: Our Berlin bureau advises that Germany is expecting to hold a general election next year, probably in September or October. After the U.S., that would make it the second trip he’d make to a country about to hold a national election (something I thought he tried not to do). I’ve seen the speculation in U.S. media about the possible effects the papal visit could have on the vote there. It will be interesting to see if the same thing happens in Germany.