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Religion

'We're still pope!' - Germans flock to Rome

Joseph Ratzinger, Bavaria's home-grown pope, has stepped down. DW visits Rome's St. Peter's Square to find out what it meant for Germans to have a "German pope" - and the emotions that come with his resignation.

Joseph Ratzinger is a fan of Bavarian brass music. So, it is only fitting that the German pontiff will end his papal term to the thumping of traditional Bavarian music fwith a band from Traunstein, Bavaria.

Not only has the brass band come to wish the pope farewell, but scores of Bavarian Catholics have arrived as well. For days, torrents of Catholic pilgrims have been arriving in Rome from Germany.

A man with a blue-and-white flag draped across his shoulders puts his arm around a blond woman
(Photo: Bernd Riegert DW)

Cornelia Engelhard and Tobias Eichinger were present at the final Angelus prayer

"We brought a banner with us that says, 'Bavaria is still the pope,'" said Tobias Eichinger. His banner is reference to a famous German newspaper headline which read "We are pope!" when, in 2005, Joseph Ratzinger was named Pope John Paul's successor.

Together with his girlfriend Cornelia, Eichinger traveled from Nuremberg to Italy. His banner was draped across his shoulders on Sunday (24.02.2013) as Pope Benedict XVI delivered his final Angelus prayer, a 15-minute monologue from the window of his work room in the Apostolic Palace at St. Peter's square.

Tobias's girlfriend, Cornelia Engelhard, shares Tobias's excitement for the Pope. "I mean, when you think that there are Catholics all over the world, and that the pope is from Bavaria?" she said.

Grüß Gott!

Even Helmut Jawurek, a former politician for the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister-party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, has become involved in the excitement.

A blonde woman stands next to a man who is holding a yellow flag.
(Photo: Bernd Riegert DW)

Claudia Gerhard and Helmut Jawurek say "Servus" at St. Peter's Square

He met the pope as part of a Catholic students' group in Regensburg. In Rome, with the help of a telescoping flagpole, the CSU politician celebrated the pope's nearly eight-year tenure with a two-and-a-half meter (eight-foot) Bavarian flag.

"We wanted to give the pope a 'Grüß Gott'," Jawurek said, referring to the traditional Bavarian greeting that translates literally as "Greet God."

To further encourage the pope to "return to Bavaria," he added a "Servus" for good measure. In Bavaria and Austria, the word means "welcome."

'I was also sad'

Maria Gretzbach traveled to Rome from just outside Münster, a city of nearly 300,000 in western Germany. She too, carries a large flag - this time the German one - as well as a homemade poster that a friend of hers holds high into the air.

A woman in a red jacket holds a white sign with hand-scrawled writing on it.
(Photo: Bernd Riegert DW)

Münster native Maria Gretzbach's sign reads, "Holy father, we love you!"

"We wanted to say thank you to the pontificate for truly giving his life to the church, for all the words that he has spoken," Gretzbach said. "Thank you for always pointing us in God's direction… and for managing to speak to us in the way that normal people do today."

The pope's surprise decision to retire - the first pope in 700 years to do so - is something she can sympathize with. "I was shocked at first, and also sad. I thought it was a real pity that he was stepping down. But I also have a lot of respect for the decision, because he was the one to determine how far he could go and how far he couldn't."

The next pope

CSU politician Helmut Jawurek also supports the pope's decision. He will remain faithful, too, to the next pope, who will be elected by conclave of a group of Cardinals at the Sistine Chapel, not far from St. Peter's Square. "I'm convinced that the next pope will also be a good one. The Catholic Church is a world church, and nationalities don't play as much of a role as emotions do."

A shortage of priests in the Catholic Church, the Vatileaks scandal, the recent resignation of a cardinal who is alleged to have been involved in sexual misconduct - these, and any other scandals, small or large, are not discussed by the pilgrims at St. Peter's Square. Instead, they simply want to say "thank you."

The pope, a white-haired man wearing white robes, waves goodbye to someone off-camera
(Photo: AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Ratzinger has given few clues as to plans for his life after the papacy

"We want to wish our holy father, who's one of us, all the best as he goes along on his way," said Tobias Eichinger. Though he admits it's "unrealistic," Tobias also hopes that, after his retirement, Joseph Ratzinger will pay a visit to the Bavarian town of Regensburg, where Ratzinger's older brother, Georg, lives. He believes that "thousands of Bavarian Catholics" would be there to welcome the former pope.

In Rome, however, the number of Catholic pilgrims is already climbing. The Italian capital expects 200,000 pilgrims and curious onlookers to arrive in preparation for the final days of Pope Benedict XVI. Large boulevards between St. Peter's Cathedral and the Castle of the Holy Angel have been closed so that throngs of followers can stream unhindered throughout the city.

For media representatives and hotel owners, however, the work is just beginning, as preparations for the upcoming conclave get under way.

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