Speculation mounts that pope may visit Germany yet again

Other News Materials 3 April 2008 21:23 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - Speculation mounted Thursday that Pope Benedict XVI, who has been sparing in his foreign travel during his three-year papacy, may next year visit his native Germany yet again.

A 2009 visit would likely be restricted to the capital Berlin and a provincial city, Erfurt, the website of the mass-circulation newspaper Bild said Thursday.

The occasion would be the 20th anniversary of the November 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the 60th anniversary of the May 1949 passage of Germany's democratic constitution.

Erfurt, in the formerly communist part of Germany, is capital of Thuringia state, whose premier Dieter Althaus visited Benedict,80, Thursday in Rome.

To German media, an Althaus spokesman quoted the premier saying Benedict had been "basically open" to the invitation to visit Erfurt.

Benedict visited World Youth Day, a Catholic youth convention in Cologne, Germany, in 2005. His 2006 visit to his home state, Bavaria, was described as a last farewell by an old man to the haunts of his youth.

Former cardinal Joseph Ratzinger set off worldwide controversy during that visit with a lecture in Regensburg in which he quoted a 14th century remark that challenged Islam.

In German terms, a visit to eastern Germany would be seen as a political gesture, touring an area where Catholics are few.

Speculation about a fresh visit first peaked in February. Catholic church figures have asked Benedict to visit, but the Catholic Diocese of Erfurt said Thursday there was no official confirmation that the pope had accepted those invitations.

Thuringia is the centre of the cult of St Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231), a queen who sacrificed her life for the poor and sick.

The pope's eight trips outside Italy so far have also taken him to Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Brazil and Austria. Trips are set this year to the United States, Australia and France.