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At the Pope’s house

· The gratitude and prayers of the Bavarian faithful in Marktl am Inn ·

At Marktl am Inn the clock seems to have been turned back by at least eight years. On Monday afternoon, 11 February, the little square — on which stands the house where Joseph Ratzinger was born at 4:15 a.m. on 16 April 1927 — was swarming with journalists. The scene is hard to imagine in an area of only just over 27 square kilometres, with a population of just under 3,000 — people who have nothing special to talk about other than an honest day's work.

But as chance would have it that those 3,000 people are fellow townsfolk of Pope Benedict XVI. And so, on that 19 April 2005 they experienced for the first time the honour of press coverage, of being under the spotlights of dozens and dozens of journalists and television crews whom they had never seen before.

“It seems as though we had returned to that day”, an engineer called Guido confided to me. More than 40 years ago he emigrated to Germany from Paestum, Italy, and, having reached the age of retirement, spends his time guiding tourists who come here to see the house in which the Pope was born.

Guido, and like him all the inhabitants of Marktl am Inn, learned the news from television. “We poured out into the square dumbfounded”, he continued, “and people began to pass the word, almost from door to door. I saw disbelief written on their faces, but little by little amazement made its exit, leaving the stage to an eloquent sentiment of pride in a figure of such deep insight as our Pope. For he is and will remain ‘our Pope’, also to me, an adoptive son of this land”.

When the delegation of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers arrived in the little Bavarian town to pay its scheduled visit to the birthplace of Joseph Ratzinger, the highlight of the World Day of the Sick, they met with people who, unlike what might well have been predicted, showed nothing but the serenity of a warm welcome for the important guests. Their only concern was for their guests, to prevent them from being assaulted by journalists. They had nothing to say except: “We are on our Pope's side. If that's what he has decided, then that's fine”.

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