The deteriorating health of former Pope Benedict XVI has sparked a wave of emotion in his native Bavaria, but the controversy that characterized his tenure remains vivid for many.
A small group of devotees in the German town of Regensburg braved the early morning cold to attend mass in the Gothic cathedral on Thursday.
The Auxiliary Bishop of Regensburg told the worshipers, “I am asking you to accompany Benedict on his last journey.”
The tribute to Benedict is especially poignant in the medieval city on the banks of the Danube, where the former Pope lived and worked for many years at the local university.
On Wednesday, the current Pope Francis called on all Catholics to say a “special prayer” for his predecessor, whose health had deteriorated significantly in recent days.
– Theologian –
In Regensburg, everyone has a story about the former pope, who taught at the university from 1969 to 1977 and regularly visited his brother, leader of the cathedral choir.
“He used to walk past our house,” said Birgit Steib, 53, on his way out of morning mass. The biologist said she was “upset” by the news from the Vatican, where Benedict still lives.
“He was a great theologian. I learned a lot from him.
“He was in Regensburg a lot.
“Everyone here is very attached to Benedict XVI,” said Siegfried Hofer, 53, another local resident and Catholic. “You are very touched when you learn that the Pope of Regensburg has passed away,” he added.
Benedict’s hometown of Marktor am Inn, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of Regensburg, is also gloomy.
“Benedict is here,” 14-year-old Amelie told AFP.
On Wednesday night, red candles were lit in front of the pope’s portrait in St. Oswald’s Church in Marktor, where the young pope, born Joseph Ratzinger, was baptized.
“Many tourists come to Marktor because of him,” said local resident Cornelia Haubrich, 59.
She recalled being “very close” to the Pope during a visit to him in September 2006, which was a “special” moment for her family.
– Controversy –
But the sympathy felt for one of Bavaria’s most famous sons does not mask bitterness, especially over the scandals that have plagued Benedict’s tenure with pedophilia and the Catholic Church.
Sybille Mandl, 70, told AFP in Regensburg: “Personally, I’m not his biggest fan because he hid a lot… he’s to blame. Yes, it was not good,” he said.
Like elsewhere in the world, the Catholic Church in Germany is rocked by a child sex abuse scandal that has caught up with the former Pope.
A damning report last January accused him of personally failing to stop four predatory priests during his tenure as archbishop of Munich in the 1980s.
Benedict has denied any wrongdoing, and the Vatican has strongly defended his record.
Marktor resident Karin Frauendorfer said of the scandal, “I was disappointed in him.”
However, she believes the episode has weighed heavily on the former Pope as well, and now hopes that “he finds peace.”