For many of the German faithful, Thursday was a sad day. As Bavarian-born Pope Benedict XVI prepared to steps down as head of the Catholic Church at 8pm, many seemed unwilling to accept that Germany would no longer direct ties to the papacy.
Thousands of Bavarian Catholics had flocked to Rome over the previous few days to say goodbye to their pontiff – even taking a traditional Bavarian brass band along to pay tribute to him, according to public broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
“We brought a banner with us that says, ‘Bavaria is still the pope,'” Tobias Eichinger, a pilgrim from Nuremberg told the broadcaster – in reference to the “We Are Pope” headline in the Bild newspaper announcing the news of Joseph Ratzinger’s appointment as pope in 2005.
“I mean, when you think that there are Catholics all over the world, and that the pope is from Bavaria?” said Eichinger’s girlfriend Cornelia Engelhard.
Meanwhile, the German Catholic Church rallied behind Benedict XVI on his last day in office.
The pope would go down in history as a “theologian pope” and “one of the greatest preachers,” said Bishop of Regensburg Rudolf Voderholzer on Thursday afternoon.
Robert Zollitsch, head of the German Conference of Bishops, praised the pope for his “quiet goodbye.”
The pope has not left a farewell letter or given any hints as to who should replace him because “he in no way wants to influence his successor,” Zollitsch told ARD broadcaster on Thursday.
“That’s his modest, reserved way,” he said.
Zollitsch said German bishops had not discussed individual names at their general assembly last weekend, and had concentrated instead on how the next pope would lead the global Church into the future.
On Thursday evening celebratory masses were planned to be held all over the country to mark end of Benedict’s reign. Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected to be among those attending a central service in Berlin’s St. Hedwig’s Cathedral.
Prayers are to be held in Regensburg, Bamberg, Munich, Freising, Würzburg and at Benedict’s birthplace in Marktl am Inn, Bavaria.
The pope was expected to leave the Vatican at 5pm and fly by helicopter to the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo. In April, the ex-pontiff plans to move into Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican, which is currently being renovated.
He has said he will withdraw completely from public life and dedicate the rest of his life to prayer.