You would think, wouldn’t you, that the anti-papal protesters, after the stunning success of World Youth Day and their humiliating failure – after a vicious and hate-filled campaign – to get on to the national radar during the Pope’s visit to England, would have gone out of business, or at least shut up for a bit.
But no: they’re now smacking their chops over the numbers they think, in their dreams, are going to turn up to protest against the Pope in Germany. “The website Der Papst kommt! [the Pope is coming]”, excitedly reports something called The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason [pah!] and Science, “is the home for a coalition of now 59 and growing, organisations united in criticism of the Pope. It is the nerve centre [ooh, how thrilling, a ‘nerve centre’; probably some scruffy little back room] for organising the upcoming protest which expects 15,000 to 20,000 demonstrators to protest during the Pope’s speech to the Bundestag [Lower House of German Parliament]”. That kind of estimate was made, of course, about the numbers who were going to turn up to the Protest the Pope main demo: it turned out to be (police figures) more like about a paltry 3,000.
I don’t know if there have been any protests about the projected cost of the visit yet, as there were in England and Spain: but they would be unwise to go down that road, since papal visits nearly always more than pay for themselves in terms of their stimulus to the local economy. Papal protesters in Spain claimed that “thousands” took to the streets to protest against the €50.5 million the visit was going to cost: afterwards it was clear that Madrid had benefited by at least three times that amount. Costs were much lower during the papal visit to this country: but everywhere the Pope went the local economy benefited. Birmingham, which incurred £80,000 in direct costs, estimated a £12.5 million boost to the city’s economy; in Glasgow there was a £4.25m surplus of economic benefit over costs.
So they can’t claim that papal visits are a financial drain. And they would be unwise to try and rattle local Catholics (as they did in this country) by scare stories about how little interest there was going to be, and how few people were going to turn up. Apart from anything else, all the venues that will host the Pope during his time in Germany are already fully booked up (unlike this country, because of the gross inefficiency with which the whole thing was organised rather than any lack of interest).
Look, these people are on a hiding to nothing. This Pope is supposed, preposterously, not to be “charismatic”. Well of course he’s charismatic: he’s a proven people magnet. He’s also, in his quiet and kindly way, a human dynamo. He’s going to address the German parliament, meet Jewish and Muslim groups, hold a prayer vigil with young people and celebrate Mass in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. Among very much else: that’s just the headlines. And we’ve seen here how visits by this supposedly frail (hah!) old man go: they begin well, and then build up from there. He’s hardly had time to recover from Madrid: and already he’s off again. I’m not going to say anything more, just give you his schedule. Read it: even better, pray for it as it unfolds. A man 30 years younger would find this exhausting: my only comment is that nobody of his age could do it (as he triumphantly will) without the constant comfort (Latin cum fortis) and support of almighty God, for Whose existence this Pope is almost a one-man proof. Just look at this, then ponder and marvel:
Thursday, Sept. 22 (Rome, Berlin)
- 8:15 am, Departure from Rome’s Ciampino airport for Berlin.
- 10:30 am, Arrival at Berlin Tegel Airport. Official welcome.
- 11:15 pm, Welcoming ceremony at Bellevue Palace in Berlin. Speech by the pope.
Courtesy visit with German President Christian Wulff in Bellevue Palace.
- 12:50 pm, Official meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel at the headquarters of the German bishops’ conference in Berlin, next to the Catholic Academy.
- 1:30 pm, Lunch with papal entourage at the Catholic Academy.
- 4:15 pm, Visit to the federal Parliament in the Reichstag Building in Berlin. Speech by the pope.
- 5:15 pm, Meeting with representatives of the Jewish community in a room of the Reichstag Building. Speech by the pope.
- 6:30 pm, Mass in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. Homily by the pope.
Friday, Sept. 23 (Berlin, Erfurt, Etzelsbach)
- 7:15 am, Private Mass in chapel of apostolic nunciature in Berlin.
- 9 am, Meeting with representatives of the Muslim community in reception room of the apostolic nunciature. Speech by the pope.
- 10 am, Departure by plane from Berlin Tegel Airport for Erfurt.
- 10:45 am, Arrival at Erfurt airport.
- 11:15 am, Visit to St Mary’s Cathedral in Erfurt.
- 11:45 am, Meeting with representatives of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, in the Chapter Room of the Monastery of St. Augustine in Erfurt. Speech by the pope.
- 12:20 pm, Ecumenical service in the Church of St. Augustine. Talk by the pope.
- 1:20 pm, Lunch with papal entourage in Erfurt seminary.
- 4:45 pm, Departure in helicopter from Erfurt airport for Etzelsbach.
- 5:30 pm, Arrival at Etzelsbach heliport.
- 5:45 pm, Marian evening prayer service at the Wallfahrtskapelle in Etzelsbach. Talk by the pope.
- 7 pm, Departure in helicopter from Etzelsbach for Erfurt.
- 7:40 pm, Arrival at Erfurt airport.
Saturday, Sept. 24 (Erfurt, Freiburg im Breisgau)
- 9 am, Mass at the Domplatz market square in Erfurt. Homily by the pope.
- 11:50 am, Departure by plane from Erfurt airport for Lahr.
- 12:50 pm, Arrival at Lahr airport.
- 2 pm, Visit to the cathedral of Freiburg im Breisgau.
- 2:15 pm, Encounter with townspeople in Cathedral Square of Freiburg im Breisgau. Greeting by the pope.
- 4:50 pm, Meeting with ex-Chancellor Helmut Kohl in seminary of Freiburg im Breisgau.
- 5:15 pm, Meeting with representatives of Orthodox churches in the auditorium of the seminary of Freiburg im Breisgau. Greeting by the pope.
- 5:45 pm, Meeting with seminarians in the Chapel of St. Charles Borromeo in seminary of Freiburg im Breisgau. Greeting by the pope.
- 6:15 pm, Meeting with the council of the Central Committee of German Catholics in the auditorium of the seminary of Freiburg im Breisgau. Speech by the pope.
- 7 pm, Prayer vigil with young people at the trade fair grounds of Freiburg im Breisgau. Speech by the pope.
Sunday, Sept. 25 (Freiburg im Breisgau, Rome)
- 10 am, Mass at tourist airport of Freiburg im Breisgau. Homily by the pope.
Recital of the Angelus. Talk by the pope.
- 12:45 pm, Lunch with members of the German bishops’ conference and papal entourage at seminary of Freiburg im Breisgau.
- 4:20 pm, Meeting with judges of the Federal Constitutional Court in auditorium of the seminary of Freiburg im Breisgau.
- 5 pm, Meeting with Catholics involved in the church and in society in the Concert Hall of Freiburg im Breisgau. Speech by the pope.
- 6:45 pm, Departure ceremony at Lahr airport. Speech by the pope.
- 7:15 pm, Departure in plane from Lahr airport for Rome.
- 8:45 pm, Arrival at Rome’s Ciampino airport.
Then, I assume, back to Castel Gandolfo, just down the road from Ciampino. But there will be no let up: He’s off to Benin in November and Iraq in January. This is a man who repeatedly asked his predecessor for permission to retire, who longed for a peaceful retirement in his beloved Regensburg home: and now…