BERLIN – Pope Benedict XVI lamented Thursday that society was becoming more detached from religion, as he arrived for his first state visit in his native Germany, itself an increasingly secular country.
“We are witnessing a growing indifference to religion in society, which considers the issue of truth as something of an obstacle in its decision-making, and instead gives priority to utilitarian considerations,” said Benedict.
Under glorious autumn sunshine, Benedict was greeted for his four-day visit by Chancellor Angela Merkel, the daughter of a Protestant pastor, and Christian Wulff, himself a re-married Catholic.
In the run-up to Benedict’s visit, Wulff called for more understanding from the Vatican for those who had divorced or re-married.
The pope, wearing long white vestments, was welcomed at Berlin’s Tegel airport with a 21-gun salute and children bearing flowers. Most of Germany’s political and religious elite was present to greet the 84-year-old pontiff.
“I have not come here primarily to pursue particular political or economic goals, as other statesmen rightly do, but rather to meet people and to speak about God,” he said.
German Christians are almost exactly divided between Catholics and Protestants and official statistics show that members of both faiths are leaving the Church in droves.
Observers put this down, in part, to revelations last year of widespread molestation by German priests over the last several decades, with top archbishop Robert Zollitsch admitting the Church had “failed” in its response.
“Germany is home to the Reformation. I am happy that tomorrow you will travel to Erfurt, a town which strongly influenced Martin Luther, to meet with representatives of the Protestant Church,” said Wulff, referring to the father of the Reformation.
“I’m convinced that we need an explanation for what divides us, not what unites us,” he said.
Wulff also underlined the fact that religious sentiment was on the wane in Germany, but stressed that the Church must strive to keep up with the times by questioning “the mistakes of its officials” and looking to how “to overcome the split between Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox.”
Speaking at the president’s official residence, Benedict also said humanity must learn from its history, particularly after the horrors unleashed by Germany in the 20th century.
“This castle, with its dramatic history, like many buildings of this city, is a testimony to the history of Germany. A clear look at the past, even at its dark pages, enables us to learn from it and to receive an impetus for the present,” said the pope in the garden of Bellevue Palace.