Believers gather at Bavarian pilgrimage town to mourn pope

Dec 30, 2022, 7:51 PM | Updated: Dec 31, 2022, 11:50 am
Believers and clergy attend a mass for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the Saint Magdalena church in ...

Believers and clergy attend a mass for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the Saint Magdalena church in Altoetting, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday. He was 95. (AP Photo/Andreas Schaad)

(AP Photo/Andreas Schaad)

              Two persons stay in front of a portrait of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the Saint Magdalena church in Altoetting, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday. He was 95. (AP Photo/Andreas Schaad)
            
              Bishop Georg Baetzing, head of the German Bishops' Conference, signs the book of condolence for Pope Emeritus Benedict at the Limburg Cathedral in Limburg, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday. He was 95. (Thomas Frey/dpa via AP)
            
              Bishop Georg Baetzing, head of the German Bishops' Conference, addresses the media as he stands next to a portrait of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during a statement in Limburg, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday. He was 95. (Thomas Frey/dpa via AP)
            
              A person signs a book of condolence for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the Saint Magdalena church in Altoetting, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday. He was 95. (AP Photo/Andreas Schaad)
            
              Believers and clergy attend a mass for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the Saint Magdalena church in Altoetting, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday. He was 95. (AP Photo/Andreas Schaad)
            
              Believers and clergy attend a mass for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the Saint Magdalena church in Altoetting, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday. He was 95. (AP Photo/Andreas Schaad)
            
              FILE - Pope Benedict XVI signs the golden book of Freiburg in front of the cathedral in Freiburg, Germany, on Sept. 24, 2011. When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI and was thrust into the footsteps of his beloved and charismatic predecessor, he said he felt a guillotine had come down on him. The Vatican announced Saturday Dec. 31, 2022 that Benedict, the former Joseph Ratzinger, had died at age 95. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

ALTOETTING, Germany (AP) — Mourners lined up quietly in the gold-adorned Collegiate Church of Altoetting in Pope Benedict XVI’s Bavarian homeland to pay condolences to one of this German region’s most famous sons, who died on Saturday.

Parents held their children’s hands tightly, older couples and nuns looked on in sorrow as they waited for their turn to write down their thoughts in a book of condolences, which was laid out next to a black-framed picture of the smiling pope in front of the altar.

The emeritus pope died after a long illness at age 95 in Rome, but many Catholic Bavarians have always felt especially close to him because of their shared ancestry, dubbing him the “Bavarian Pope.”

Believers from across the southern German state headed to the Catholic pilgrimage town of Altoetting to share their grief. The town is famous for its statue of the Virgin Mary, who is said to have miraculous healing powers. Benedict — who was born in the nearby village of Marktl — came here many times, even as a child with his parents, to pray to the “black Madonna,” as locals call her affectionately.

“It’s a pity the pope died,” said Roslyn Scott, a Nigerian who lives in the Bavarian capital of Munich and had come to pray to the Virgin Mary statue in Altoetting when she heard the news of Benedict’s death. “He was just a quiet pope who was most loved by the Bavarian people.”

That love was vice versa.

In his “spiritual will,” released by the Vatican on Saturday, Benedict also wrote of his love for Bavaria, saying that he “would like to thank the Lord for the beautiful homeland in the Bavarian foothills of the Alps, in which I have seen again and again the splendor of the of the Creator Himself shining through.”

While many Bavarians expressed sadness at the loss, the mayor of Altoetting noted that Benedict “had been preparing for a long time to meet the eternal judge.”

“He has always expressed that and I think he is very calm and very serene about this encounter,” said Stephan Antwerpen.

When the church bells rang loudly in the afternoon, and dusk settled across the town square, people started filling the church pews for a requiem service held by the pastor, Klaus Metzl.

As the priest walked through the aisle, the organ roared, the altar boys and girls waved incense, and the faithful rose and sang.

“Man thinks, the Lord directs,” Metzl said to the crowd inside the church. “Who would have thought this morning that we would gather here later in front of the pope’s photo to commemorate him.”

“Death is the fulfillment of life,” the priest preached. “We all have one goal: heaven.”

Bavaria is considered one of the most Catholic and conservative regions in Germany, so elsewhere in the southern state, clergy were also preparing to pay their last respects to Benedict.

The diocese of Regensburg, where Benedict taught theology at a university in the 1960s and 1970s, ordered that the bells of all the churches will be rung for 15 minutes at noon on Sunday.

The state government in Bavaria ordered that flags on regional government buildings be flown at half-staff Saturday and on the day of Benedict’s funeral.

“Benedict spent his life wanting to find the mystery of God and help others find it,” Metzl told The Associated Press.

“I am sure that he has found it now,” Metzl added. “And the Mother of God, whom he so loved dearly, will now show him the way.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Believers gather at Bavarian pilgrimage town to mourn pope