Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Pope and the Bear

Saturday in mid-afternoon the Pope travelled by car to Munich's "Marienplatz" (Square of Mary) at the center of which is the "Mariensaule" (Column of Mary). At the top of the marble pillar is a gilded bronze statue of the Virgin, Patroness of Bavaria, erected in 1638 by Maximilian I as an act of thanksgiving for the end of the Swedish occupation of his city during the Thirty Years War.

Benedict XVI recalled how nearly 30 years ago, in 1977, he began his service as archbishop of Munich-Freising by praying to the Virgin in this place, and how five years later, in 1982, having been called by the Pope to Rome he left the diocese, "once again addressing a prayer to the 'Patrona Bavariae' entrusting 'my' city and my homeland to her protection. Today I am here again, this time as Successor to St. Peter."

The Pope also recalled how, with his appointment as archbishop of Munich-Freising, he had become successor to St. Corbinian, founder of the diocese of Freising. And he evoked the legend according to which a bear had torn to pieces the horse upon which the saint was riding to Rome. St. Corbinian reproached the bear for its cruel act and, as punishment, loaded it with the burden the horse had been carrying.

"St. Corbinian's bear was released on their arrival in Rome," said the Pope. "In my case, the 'Master' decided differently, and thus I find myself once again at the foot of the Mariensaule to implore the intercession and blessing of the Mother of God, this time not only for the city of Munich and for Bavaria, but for the Universal Church and for all men and women of good will."

After the singing of the popular Marian hymn "Ave Maria zart" (Hail sweet Mary), the Pope addressed a prayer to the Virgin: "Our ancestors, in a time of tribulation, erected your image here, in the heart of the city of Munich, entrusting the city and the country to you. Along the paths of their everyday lives, they wished to meet you always and anew, and to learn from you how to live their human lives justly."

"Help us," the Pope concluded, "to become patient and humble, but also free and courageous as you were at the hour of the Cross. ... Bless us, and bless this city and this country! Show us Jesus, the blessed fruit of your bosom. Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen."

Pope Benedict then moved on to the "Residenz," one of the biggest royal palaces in Europe, where he paid a courtesy visit to Horst Kohler, president of the Federal Republic of Germany, and held separate meetings with Angela Merkel, federal chancellor, and Edmund Stoiber, minister-president of Bavaria.

At 8.15 p.m., the Pope travelled to the palace of the archbishop of Munich, where he dined and spent the night.

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