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Pope Arrives in Germany for Youth Day Celebrations

  • Sabina Castelfranco

Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in his native Germany where he will celebrate World Youth Day. He got a tumultuous welcome in Cologne from crowds of young people anxious to get at least a glimpse of the German pope. His visit is expected to emphasize outreach to Jews and Muslims and Vatican's efforts at evangelizing an increasingly secularized Europe.

As the pope's plane landed, those gathered at Cologne airport, clapped and shouted out "Benedict".

The German president, chancellor, and other political and religious leaders welcomed the pontiff. This is his first trip abroad since he became pope on April 19.

The pope has come to Germany on a trip that had been decided by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. He will celebrate World Youth Day with hundreds of thousands of young people.

"This is a truly extraordinary event," the pope said, "because young [people] from all over world and from all cultures are coming together in a united fashion to search for the truth".

At the airport he addressed those gathered to greet him.

He said that the arrival of so many people in Cologne to celebrate the World Youth Day is a sign of the Church's vitality. He said he is happy to be with them to confirm their faith and enliven their hope.

The pope also said he was sure that he too would receive something from them, especially from their enthusiasm, their sensitivity, and their readiness to face the challenges of the future.

The pope said young people are making this pilgrimage like the Magi, guided by a star, in search of the Lord. Like the Magi, he said, all believers - and young people in particular - have been called to set out on the journey of life in search of truth, justice, and love.

Close to 400,000 youngsters are in the city. Young people could be seen waving flags and singing as they staked out positions along the banks of the Rhine River where the pope is to take a boat ride.

Kristy Dullnig is one of the young people who have come from the United States.

"I think it is overwhelming being here because there are cultural differences and spiritual differences and its very powering for us to be here," she said.

Security is extremely tight in Cologne. World Youth Day Security Chief Winrich Granizka says Germany authorities are confident now that all possible measures have been taken to ensure everything runs smoothly.

"We have 4,000 police officers on duty, we have 4,000 security men on the field and even in the town. We have more than 3,000 paramedics for this event," he said.

Pope Benedict will spend four days in Cologne. The high point of his visit will be an open-air mass on Sunday that up to a million young people are expected to attend. During his visit he will also meet with officials from Protestant churches and members of the Jewish and Muslim communities.