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A future for the Church in Europe

· Thursday to Sunday, the Pope's third time in Germany ·

This Thursday through Sunday, Benedict XVI returns to Germany for the third time, his first official visit with a message of hope. The Pope, who has previously travelled to other European capitals: Paris in 2008, London in 2010 and Madrid last month, leaves tomorrow for Berlin, without a doubt an economic engine, to relaunch the theme of the new evangelization on the continent. He will propose a reasonable faith and one which is open to dialogue, keeping in line with his pontificate. The Holy Father knows how to speak, also against criticisms to Catholicism, in a context of a growing lack of faith especially due to the global recession.

John Paul II went to Germany three times, twice when it was still divided – in 1980 and 1987 – and once after the reunification in 1996. Fifteen years have passed since then and in the meantime the optimism of those years seems to be increasingly overshadowed by the financial crisis, which today effects Germans.

It is nevertheless a visit that promises to be complex logistically, as the Pope will sleep every night in a different city, and in terms of activity, only the Journey to the Holy Land had a busier schedule. Benedict XVI will have the advantage of being able to speak to a world which he knows and understand well. And if his previous visits to Cologne in August 2005, his first international visit, and to Bavaria the following year, concerned particular realities, it is evident given the itinerary of this journey that there are three very diverse stages, each distinct from the other. The first day, Thursday, in the capital in the Northeastern part of the country, there will be official meetings with federal authorities and the highly anticipated address to the Bundestag, something never before seen but similar to the meeting in Westminster Hall, where not only members of Parliament were present but also leaders of civil society, of the academic and cultural worlds, diplomats and leaders of other religions. On Friday in Erfurt, located in the heart of the country, the centre of the action will be focused on ecumenism and Luther, who studied and lived there. Finally en route to the southwest, in Freiburg, diocese of the President of the German Bishops' Conference and of Mons. Georg Gänswein, Private Secretary, the spotlight will be on the German Catholic Church and on lay people, who are the driving force and the youth – in a city with a population of 200,000 of whom 30,000 are university students – who will participate in the vigil on Saturday following the wake of enthusiasm from the recent World Youth Day in Madrid.

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