Pope Benedict XVI's four-day visit to Germany highlighted two closely connected challenges for the church: how to re-evangelise traditionally Christian countries in the West, and how to regain a credible voice in modern society.
In a sense, the pope's German homeland was a test case for the "new evangelisation" project that has taken center stage in his pontificate.
As the pope pointed out repeatedly during the Sept. 22-25 visit, modern Germany is a highly secularized country where atheism or religious indifference is widespread, where traditional moral values are eroding and where the church's message seems to have less and less impact.
And yet Germany has a native son as pope -- still a point of pride for many Germans -- and a tradition of intellectual debate. At the very least, the pope hoped for a fair hearing, and at some levels, he got one.
The pope also clearly connected with the Catholic faithful who turned out by the tens of thousands for his Masses and prayer services. Praying before a statue of Mary at a shrine in Etzelsbach or kneeling in eucharistic adoration at the Freiburg cathedral, the pope heard behind him the sound of silence -- music to his ears, because it was a sign of intense participation.
His appeal to return to the Christian roots of Germany met with enthusiastic approval from what one woman called his "base" -- the Catholic families who have tried to maintain their religious traditions in the face of decades of communism and more recent years of social fragmentation.
- John Thavis
Trip analysis: In pope's Germany, a test case for 'new evangelization' (Catholic News Service)