How do you put the Pope's return to his homeland into perspective?
This is the first sentence of a report from Berlin posted on the BBC News website this morning.
It is true that there were about 9,000 protesters in Potsdamer Platz, but there were many more participants - more than 60,000 - in the Mass at the vast Olympic Stadium in Berlin.Compare to about 10 000 protesters in London on the Saturday of Pope Benedict's visit, and 80 000 at the vigil in Hyde Park the same evening. Somewhat the same.
And it is true that some members of parliament did boycott his speech to the Bundestag - but many more stayed, listened and then stood and applauded at the end.This reminds me very much of the warm applause at the end of the Holy Father's address in Westminster Hall.
After describing the arrival ceremony, the BBC report continues (my emphasis added, because I think this phrase quite perceptively indicates what one might call a Papal uniqueness which is very apparent in visits like this one):
From there, everyone he met seemed like a reminder of the diversity and perhaps the difficulty for a spiritual leader in a secular state: President Christian Wulff is a divorced and remarried Catholic who is, accordingly, not allowed to participate in some parts of Catholic services; Chancellor Angela Merkel is the daughter of a Lutheran priest; Mayor Klaus Wowereit of Berlin is openly homosexual.[See here for my own comment on the Bundestag address.]
In the midst of these differences, the Pope has stood out....
.... the Bundestag is in one of the most historically charged buildings, the Reichstag which was set ablaze in 1933 and then lay in ruins throughout the years of Communism until it was rebuilt as the parliament of a democratic, united Germany.
Pope Benedict stood at the centre of the newly built forum, under the modern dome, and delivered a cerebral discourse on politics and the duty of politicians.