On Saturday morning a man fired three air gun shots in Erfurt, Germany, around one mile (1,6 kilometers) from the city’s main cathedral (Saint Mary), where Pope Benedict XVI was to celebrate Mass.
The shooting incident has occurred on the edge of the security zone about an hour before the Pope started his celebration of the Mass for around 30,000 people. The gun fires aimed at a security guard.
Eckhard Deutschmann, a local police spokesman told AFP that no one was injured in the incident and a suspect was arrested in his apartment, from where the shots were fired.
Pope Benedict XVI celebrates a Mass Saturday morning at Saint Mary's Cathedral in Erfurt, Germany, about an hour after the shooting incident.(AP)
When the man was arrested, the Pope was already at the airport on his way to the staunchly Catholic city of Freiburg, the final stop on this visit, where he holds a prayer vigil for young people later on Saturday.
“According to the German police, it seems to be the action of an unbalanced person,” said Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokeman. It was “an incident that had nothing to do with the Pope” and “the Pope has not been informed,” he said.
There was “no worry” in the papal entourage over the incident, and the pontiff was not informed about it before the Mass. “It didn’t seem particularly urgent,” he told reporters on the pope’s plane after the Mass.
There has been very tight security for the Pope’s first state visit to his native Germany. Large parts of Berlin, Erfurt and Freiburg have been locked down for the trip and large police forces were deployed.
On the Mass celebrated early Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI paid tribute to those Catholics who had kept the faith burning during Nazi and Communist regimes in Erfurt, former East Germany. The most resilient Catholic community under the Communist regime was in Erfurt.
Pope Benedict XVI prays during the Mass held in Erfurt after the shooting incident.(AP)
“You have had to endure first a brown and then a red dictatorship, which acted on the Christian faith like acid rain,” Pope Benedict XVI said. “Are not the deep roots of faith and Christian life to be sought in something very different from social freedom? It was actually amid the hardships of pressure from without that many committed Catholics remained faithful to Christ and to the church,” Pope said.
Germany’s Church has been losing thousands of followers because of revelations that hundreds of children and young people were abused by clergy and church employees, the scandal has cost them badly needed trust among the roughly 24 million German Catholics.
The victims groups and their lawyers has been accused Pope Benedict XVI of being part of a systematic cover-up by the church hierarchy for pedophile priests in his earlier roles as an archbishop in Germany and later at the pontiff.
On Friday night, Pope Benedict XVI met for half an hour with two women and three men from parishes across Germany who were among the abused. He expressed “deep compassion and regret” at the suffering of those who were abused and assured them the Church is seeking “effective measures to protect children,” Vatican said.
Survivors groups denounced the pope’s meeting with German victims as an empty gesture. They maintain the church has not done enough to prosecute offending priests and prevent future cases of abuse.
Catholic leaders had warned ahead of Pope Benedict XVI visit that there was no quick solution, but they hoped the pontiff could help heal wounds left by the scandal.
Germany’s Bishops Conference has set up a telephone hotline to counsel victims and help them to take legal steps against offending priests when possible.
About 9,000 people turned out in Berlin to denounce the Vatican views on homosexuality, contraception and other issues.
On the first two days of his visit, the Pope met members of Germany’s Jewish and Muslim communities and then held prayers with Protestant leaders in a show of greater Christian unity.
Pope Benedict XVI has begun his first official visit to Germany, his native country.
After arriving in Berlin, Pope Benedict XVI said he had come to the country to talk about Christianity, not politics.
The Pope visit to Germany may be one of his most difficult to date, with strong protests expected against his teachings.
Pope Benedict XVI, 84, is to address the German parliament and say Mass in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium during the four-day visit.
The pontiff will travel widely across Germany, where there are officially 25 million Catholics – one third of the population.
The Pope has visited Germany unofficially several times since assuming the Church’s highest office, travelling to Catholic strongholds in the Rhineland and his native Bavaria.
However, the tour will take Benedict XVI into historically Protestant regions and parts of the atheistic old East Germany.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, daughter of a Lutheran pastor who grew up in East Germany, said Christian unity would be a focus of the Pope’s visit.
Tomorrow, Benedict XVI will meet members of Germany’s Lutheran Church in the monastery where Luther studied as a monk in Erfurt in the early 16th Century, before breaking with Rome and launching the Protestant Reformation.
Pope Benedict has been greeted at Berlin’s Tegel airport by an artillery salute and a guard of honour and he was welcomed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Christian Wulff.
Pope Benedict XVI, German president, Christian Wulff, and his wife Bettina at the Bellevue Palace in Berlin
Visiting President Christian Wulff’s residence in Berlin, Benedict XVI said:
“I am not here first and foremost… to follow particular political, or economic, aims but to meet the people and to speak to them about God.”
The Pope visit has attracted opposition from various groups. Protesters have taken issue with the Catholic stance on homosexuality and contraception, and some members of German Parliament – possibly as many as 100, or almost one in seven – plan to boycott his speech to the Bundestag, on Thursday.
It is believed that at least 20,000 demonstrators, including gay people, feminists, atheists, abuse survivors and other opponents of the Pope, will gather in Berlin.
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, who is a Protestant, criticized the planned boycott, accusing members of Bundestag of “arrogance, narrow-mindedness and provincialism”.
Berlin’s openly gay mayor, Klaus Wowereit, said he welcomed the Pope’s visit and would meet him personally, but he also expressed understanding for the protesters.
Both Mayor Klaus Wowereit and President Christian Wulff, who is divorced and remarried, are Catholics who in the eyes of the Church lead sinful lifestyles.
Speaking to reporters on his plane from Rome, Pope Benedict XVI said he could understand those leaving the Church due to the sexual abuse scandals of recent years.
One of the highlights of Pope visit to Germany is a Mass to be held on Thursday evening at the Olympic Stadium.
The Olympic Stadium, where Hitler hosted the 1936 games, is now a popular sporting and entertainment venue, and some 70,000 people are expected to attend the Mass.
The tour includes also a meeting with former Chancellor Helmut Kohl and a visit to the strongly Catholic city of Freiburg in the south-west.
According to AFP news agency, a record of 181,000 German Catholics officially quit the Church last year, a total for the first time higher than that for Protestants leaving their churches.
The Pope also told reporters in the plane he had nothing against the planned demonstrations against his visit, as long as they were civil.
“I can understand that in the face of such reports [about sexual abuse], people, especially those close to victims, would say <<this isn’t my Church anymore>>.”
“The Church is a net of the Lord that pulls in good fish and bad fish. We have to learn to live with the scandals and work against the scandals from inside the great net of the Church.”
Groups of Catholics who are demanding reform of the Church will also use the visit to express their views.
Sigrid Grabmeier, a spokeswoman of Catholic reform group Wir Sind Kirche (We are Church), said she had mixed feelings about the Pope’s visit.
“I do not really know what he wants to tell us about really important things like justice and the world, or rich and poor people or something.”
Sigrid Grabmeiercalled for a return to Christian basics, saying: “Jesus, he did not found a religion and he did not tell us how we should believe, but how we live.”