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RELIGION

Former Pope Benedict makes first trip to native Germany in a decade

Former pope Benedict XVI travelled from the Vatican to Germany on Thursday to visit his sick brother, officials said, in his first trip abroad since his shock resignation in 2013.

Former Pope Benedict makes first trip to native Germany in a decade
Pope Benedict in Vatican City in June 2018. Photo: DPA

The unexpected trip to the Bavarian city of Regensburg was described as “a  private visit” made necessary by the deteriorating health of Benedict's  96-year-old brother Georg Ratzinger, said Clemens Neck, a spokesman for the Regensburg bishopric.

READ ALSO: Catholic Church in Germany: Former Pope Benedict speaks of attempts to 'silence' him

“It might be the last time the brothers see each other in this world,” Neck  told AFP.

The Vatican confirmed the trip and said the only other time 93-year-old  Benedict had left the Vatican since his resignation was a visit to the Castel Gandolfo papal palace outside Rome.

It is believed to be his first time back in Germany since 2011.

Benedict, seen as a traditionalist in the Catholic Church, stunned the  world when he became the first pope in 600 years to resign, citing health  reasons.

The former pontiff, whose original name is Joseph Ratzinger, now lives in a  small former monastery inside the Vatican and has largely stayed out of the  public eye.

“I wish Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI a good stay in Germany and the necessary  rest to privately look after his brother,” Georg Baetzing, the head of the  German Bishops' Conference, said in a statement.

The trip comes just days after numerous EU countries reopened their borders to Europeans as coronavirus lockdowns are eased..

Given his own frail health, Benedict was travelling with a doctor and a nurse, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told reporters in Rome.

He will stay in Regensburg as long as necessary, Bruni added.

The two siblings have a “firm” bond, according to the official Vatican News site, which said that Georg had made regular trips to Rome to see his brother over the years.

Both were ordained priests on the same day in June 1951, it added.

Georg Ratzinger went on to conduct the thousand-year-old Regensburg cathedral choir, known as the Regensburger Domspatzen.

But the renowned choir fell under the shadow of the Catholic Church's child abuse scandal after a 2017 report found that more than 500 choir boys suffered sexual or physical abuse at the institute from 1945 to the early 1990s.

The report criticised senior Church figures for failing to do enough to prevent the abuse, including Georg Ratzinger who led the choir from 1964 to 1994.

Ratzinger has said he knew nothing about the violence at the school.

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ISLAM

Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday

The mayor of Cologne has announced a two-year pilot project that will allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer on the Muslim day of rest each week.

Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday
The DITIP mosque in Cologne. Photo: dpa | Henning Kaiser

Mosques in the city of the banks of the Rhine will be allowed to call worshippers to prayer on Fridays for five minutes between midday and 3pm.

“Many residents of Cologne are Muslims. In my view it is a mark of respect to allow the muezzin’s call,” city mayor Henriette Reker wrote on Twitter.

In Muslim-majority countries, a muezzin calls worshippers to prayer five times a day to remind people that one of the daily prayers is about to take place.

Traditionally the muezzins would call out from the minaret of the mosque but these days the call is generally broadcast over loudspeakers.

Cologne’s pilot project would permit such broadcasts to coincide with the main weekly prayer, which takes place on a Friday afternoon.

Reker pointed out that Christian calls to prayer were already a central feature of a city famous for its medieval cathedral.

“Whoever arrives at Cologne central station is welcomed by the cathedral and the sound of its church bells,” she said.

Reker said that the call of a muezzin filling the skies alongside church bells “shows that diversity is both appreciated and enacted in Cologne”.

Mosques that are interested in taking part will have to conform to guidelines on sound volume that are set depending on where the building is situated. Local residents will also be informed beforehand.

The pilot project has come in for criticism from some quarters.

Bild journalist Daniel Kremer said that several of the mosques in Cologne were financed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “a man who opposes the liberal values of our democracy”, he said.

Kremer added that “it’s wrong to equate church bells with the call to prayer. The bells are a signal without words that also helps tell the time. But the muezzin calls out ‘Allah is great!’ and ‘I testify that there is no God but Allah.’ That is a big difference.”

Cologne is not the first city in North Rhine-Westphalia to allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer.

In a region with a large Turkish immigrant community, mosques in Gelsenkirchen and Düren have been broadcasting the religious call since as long ago as the 1990s.

SEE ALSO: Imams ‘made in Germany’: country’s first Islamic training college opens its doors

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