Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Superstar Cult Continues Around the Pope

News that seldom gets reported in the US papers...

Superstar-Kult um den Papst ist ungebrochen, from Die Welt (translated by Teresa at the Papa Ratzinger Forum):

Wolfgang Beinert, parish priest of Pentling,has a theory.

"The Pope at 80 is in excellent form because he feels that he is loved."

Beinert, who was once a student and then a university assistant to Joseph Ratzinger, says Benedict draws real joy from the office he performs and the goodwill and affection that the faithful give him.

Beinert is right that the people love the Pope. More than that, they celebrate him. And yet, when he was elected two years ago, no one expected anything like this.

Cardinal Ratzinger had the reputation of a backward-looking Catholic and his name was a symbol for conservatism. How will he deal with people, many asked. And what about the media?

But as if he had become another man altogether overnight, Benedict became almost from the very beginning, a cult figure. A million youth celebrated him in Cologne in Augustt 2005. A teenage magazine distributed a poster that said BENEDICT SUPERSTAR.

A year later, Germany celebrated his homecoming to Bavaria. More TV cameras were set up in Bavaria than for the World Cup championships a few months earlier. Never were a Pope's words so omnipresent in Germany. His books, and books about him, fill the best-seller lists.

In the past year, Benedict attracted almostt 4 million people to St. Peter's Square, easily double the figure drawn by his predecessor at the height of his popularity.

Perhaps even more important, since Benedict became Pope, the number of Catholics leaving the Church inGermany has dropped, while the humber of converts and returnees is rising.

Marktl, the little town where he was born, is all abuzz. Bakeries still turn out marzizpan miters and Benediktschnitten (cake). Visitors from Italy and Poland come away with bonbonnierres with the Pope's face on it, as it is on glasses and on souvenir spoons. Devotional stores do booming business.

The town square, where the Holy Father stepped down last September to greet the people, has a four-meter bronze Benedict-pillar showing scenes of his life, and his saying, "he who believes is never alone, in life or in death."

Marktl now has eight bus parking lots, 15 new work-generating business enterprises and a four-language Internet center.

But the whole of Bavaria has seen a rise in tourism - 100,000 more visitors last year than in 2005. The Marian shrine at Altoetting has seen 20 million pilgrims this year, about 10% more than at any time in the past 10 years.

"Some visitors stand before the baptismal font where the Pope was baptized and weep," says one tour operator.

The 'birth house' will now be a community cente, where people can meet, pray and engage in social activities.

Monday morning, to mark the Pope's birthday, parish priest Josef Kaiser was scheduled to say a prayer in the room where the Pope was born at the exact time he was born, 4:18 A.M. and then lead a candelight procession to St. Oswald where he was baptized.

Later in the day, children from Marktl and surrounding towns were to release 800 white and yellow balloons, and in the afternoon, Market Square was to be formally renamed Papst-Benedikt XVI Platz