Hoarse Pope Pays Tribute to Austria’s Holocaust Victims

From AFP:

Pope Benedict XVI voiced “sadness and repentance” as he paid solemn tribute Friday to the victims of the Nazi Holocaust at the start of a three-day visit to Austria.

Shortly after his arrival in Vienna, the pope made a brief stop at Judenplatz (Jews’ Square) which is home to a monument to the 60,000 Austrian Jews killed during World War II.

The pontiff paid a silent tribute at the memorial, before exchanging a few words with members of the Jewish community.

“It is time to express our sadness, our repentance and our friendship towards the Jews,” Benedict XVI had said earlier on the plane while flying into Vienna from Rome.

The pope was greeted at Vienna airport by Austrian President Heinz Fischer and the country’s archbishop, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, who also underlined that Jesus and the apostles were Jewish and that “we must never forget our roots.”

“It is part of this city’s tragedy that it is indeed here that these roots were forgotten, even denied, to the point of wanting to destroy a people to whom God gave his first love,” Schoenborn said.

Received with military honours and a children’s choir, the pope expressed “great joy” at returning to a country he knew well, having grown up in neighbouring Bavaria.

“This cultural space in the heart of Europe transcends borders and brings together ideas and energies from various parts of the continent,” he said in German.

His visit has been greeted with some criticism in a country where the traditionally powerful Catholic Church is waning in influence.

But speaking at the airport, the pope argued “the culture of this country is deeply imbued with the message of Jesus Christ.”

“All this, and much more, gives me a vivid sense… of being ‘at home’ here in your midst,” he added.

The pope’s main stop will be Mariazell, the main pilgrimage site in the Danube region which was founded in 1157 by Benedictine monks. He said the site “symbolizes an openness which… transcends physical and national frontiers.”

Statistics show the Austrian Church has lost about one million followers since the late Pope John Paul II first visited in 1983.

Today, only 67 percent of Austrians are still officially Catholic, compared to almost 92 percent in 1900.

But several thousands still turned up on Am Hof square in central Vienna to see the pope, despite pouring rain. The crowd, in colourful ponchos or huddling under large umbrellas, greeted him with cries of “Benedict! Benedict!”

The pontiff appeared hoarse, seemingly confirming reports that he was having health problems.

Benedict XVI told the public: “We must learn… to respect one another lovingly,” adding that “in God’s universal family… there is a place for everyone.”

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