On 28 September, 2011, at a general audience in St Peter's Square, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on his first state visit to Germany which he described as "truly a great feast of faith." He had made two earlier pastoral visits, including for the 2005 World Youth Day in Cologne.
During his flight to Germany, as is customary, Benedict took questions from journalists and one of these concerned the Church's response to sexual abuses: "Over recent years increasing numbers of people have been leaving the Church in Germany, also as a result of acts of child abuse committed by members of the clergy. What are your feelings about this? What would you say to those who wish to leave the Church?"
Benedict responded: "Let us first distinguish the specific motivations of those who are horrified by the crimes that have recently come to light. I can understand how, in the light of such information and especially if close relatives are involved, one would say: 'This is no longer my Church. For me the Church was a humanising and moral force. If representatives of the Church do such wrong I can no longer live with this Church'.
"This is a specific situation. Generally speaking though, against the background of a widespread secularisation of our society, there are many reasons and the act of leaving is often only the last step people make in a long process of distancing themselves from the Church."
As a head of state he was greeted at Berlin's Tegel airport by an artillery salute and a guard of honour, and welcomed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Christian Wulff.
Singling out some of the highlights of the four day trip, which included 17 addresses and 20 meetings in three major cities, Benedict said the invitation to speak at the Bundestag on 23 September was "certainly among the most significant moments of my journey" since it was "the first time a Pope delivered an address before the members of the German Parliament." During his address, he said he set out the "foundations of law and of a free state of law that is, upon the measure of every law, inscribed by the Creator into the very being of his creation."
He also recalled the country's Nazi past which underlined the dangers of power divorced from an objective morality rooted in the natural law. "We have seen how power became divorced from right, how power opposed right and crushed it, so that the State became an instrument for destroying right."
While over 100 Greens and other left wing MPs boycotted Benedict's talk, the vast majority were present and gave the Pope a standing ovation at the end of his talk.
Benedict also recalled the ecumenical tone of his visit, saying he "greatly desired to experience a moment of ecumenism at Erfurt, since it was there that Martin Luther entered the Augustinian community, and there that he was ordained a priest."
In Germany, a union of 22 Lutheran Churches constitutes the German Evangelical Church which has more than 24 million members, or around 30 percent of the German population. The Catholic population is roughly the same.
Referring during his General Audience to the ecumenical events at Erfert on 23 September, Benedict remarked: "We saw once again how important our common witness of faith in Jesus Christ is in today's world, which often ignores God and takes no interest in him. Our common effort is needed along the path toward full unity, but we are always well aware that we can neither 'make' faith nor the unity we so desire. A faith that we ourselves create is of no value [for] true unity is rather a gift from the Lord, who prayed and who always prays for the unity of his disciples."
The Pope was also candid in his assessment of what threatens Christian unity, pointing to two current challenges. His first concern was about new forms of Christianity that are currently "spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism" and yet have "little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability."
The second challenge he warned of was "the secularised context of the world in which we Christians today have to live and bear witness to our faith."
He asked: "Are we to yield to the pressure of secularisation, and become modern by watering down the faith?" His firm answer was "no". While the Christian faith ought to be lived afresh this freshness would come "not by watering the faith down, but by living it today in its fullness."
On 24 September, in Freiburg, Benedict met with leaders of the Orthodox Churches in Germany. During his address, he highlighted areas where co-operation is particularly needed in order to reverse "the present climate, in which many would like, as it were, to 'liberate' public life from God."
In the pro-life struggle both Catholic and Orthodox could "speak up jointly for the protection of human life from conception to natural death" and also work together to promote "the value of marriage and the family," particularly when defending "the integrity and the uniqueness of marriage between one man and one woman."
During his visit, the Pope also spoke to representatives of Germany's Jewish and Muslim communities.
Finally, recalling his prayer vigil with youth, Benedict said he was "happy to see that the faith in my German homeland has a youthful face, that it is alive and has a future."
He concluded: "This apostolic journey to Germany offered me the propitious occasion to meet the faithful of my German homeland, to confirm them in faith, in hope and in love, and to share with them the joy of being Catholic. But my message was addressed to the whole German people, in order to invite everyone to look to the future with faith. It is true, 'Where God is, there is a future'."