At 5:50 p.m. on April 19, 2005, white smoke began rising from the Vatican. A new pope had been found: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who from that point on would be known as Pope Benedict the XVI. For the first time in 700 years, a German would sit on the Chair of Saint Peter. Over the course of his tenure he would visit his homeland three times.
Coincidentally, the first foreign trip for the head of the Catholic Church brought him back to Germany. In August 2005, World Youth Day took place in Cologne. The new pope was celebrated wildly upon his first official trip, and on the day of his official greeting in Cologne, more than 600,000 pilgrims flooded into the city.
The climax of the World Youth Day visit took place during the holy mass at Marienfeld, just outside Cologne. On August 21, a papal mass was given, hailing the end of the World Youth Day celebrations. More than one million visitors were in attendance at Marienfeld, many of whom camped there overnight.
Shortly after his election, Pope Benedict promised Bavarian bishops that he would pay a visit soon. And in September, 2006, he followed through on that promise. The theme of Benedict's six-day trip through Bavaria was, "Whoever believes is not alone." In Munich, 70,000 faithful awaited him. Security measures similar to those taken during the pontiff's US visit were undertaken in Munich.
After two days in Munich, Benedict arrived in Altötting. In the shrine of the Chapel of Grace, the pope prayed before the "Black Madonna." He then held an open-air service before 60,000 faithful. At the end of the holy mass he presented his cardinal's ring as a gift to the Black Madonna.
In the evening, the pope visited Marktl, a German town of 2,000 on the border to Austria. He spent some time in quiet at the baptismal font of St. Oswald Church, where he was baptized as a child. He did not visit the home of his birth, but drove past in the popemobile.
Another part of his trip through Bavaria was a visit to the University of Regensburg. Here he delivered a speech that received much attention. Reactions were largely negative due to declarations regarding Islam and violence and the quoting of a controversial excerpt written by a Byzantine emperor that was critical of Islam. Large protests took place in the Islamic world.
Freising was the last stop on the pontiff's first trip to Germany. After a trip through the city's medieval quarters, he was received by the assembled clergy of the archdiocese. In Freising Cathedral he spoke before priests and deacons regarding the condition of the German Catholic Church. He then left Germany from Munich airport.
In September 2011, Benedict visited Germany for the third time as pope. He was the first pope in history to hold a speech in the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament. In the meantime, demonstrators gathered at the Brandenburg gate to protest the visit, while 50 parliamentians did not attend the speech because they said it violated the separation of church and state.
On the same evening, Benedict gave a holy sermon in Berlin's Olympic stadium. Approximately 60,000 attended, including the chancellor and president of Germany. Protesters continued actions in Berlin. Among them were a few parliamentarians.
The pope traveled through Erfurt and onward to the hermitage of Etzelsbach, where he met with victims of sexual abuse. The meeting was not on the official itinerary of the pope's visit. From Erfurt he flew to Lahr, where he then drove to Freiburg, where he met with former Chancellor Helmut Kohl before returning to Rome.
In spite of his strong connection to home, Joseph Ratzinger will not be spending his retirement in Germany. The former pope will remain in the Vatican, where he will live in a cloister.
From April 19, 2005, to February 28, 2013, Benedict XVI was pope. He visited Germany three times during that period and was celebrated enthusiastically on every occassion.