Pope on Bavaria visit prays for Sept 11 victims
ALTOETTING, Germany, Sept 11 (Reuters) Pope Benedict prayed for the victims of the September 11 attacks on the United States today as he received a rapturous welcome in this small southern German shrine town.
The 79-year-old Pope began the third day of his six-day German trip in Altoetting, a town of some 13,000 people known as the religious heart of Bavaria because it is home to the country's leading Marian shrine.
Trumpets blared as the Pope arrived in the small square flanked by buildings with onion domes and spires and said a mass for 70,000 people who waved German, Bavarian and Vatican flags as he arrived.
But despite the festive atmosphere, the anniversary of September 11 was on everyone's minds.
''Five years after the terror attack on the World Trade Center in New York, we ask for peace in the whole world,'' said a prayer read by a participant while the Pope listened intently.
''We pray for our homeland, our families, for peace beteween the old and the young and for the unifying bond of faith,'' the prayer said.
The Pope responded with the rest of the congregation ''Christ hear us.'' The Pope began his visit to Altoetting in the Chapel of Grace, where he prayed before a small wooden statue of the virgin with the infant Jesus known as the ''Black Madonna'' because it has been stained by candle soot over the centuries.
The tradition of Altoetting goes back to 1489, when a three year-old boy who drowned in a nearby stream came back to life after his mother laid the body out before the statue, according to the legend.
''The Pope is extremely content about the way things are going.
Looking at him close up it's clear that he is totally at home,'' said chief Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.
POPE'S BROTHER Among those waiting for the Pope on the altar platform was his older brother Georg Ratzinger, who is also a priest and for years director of a boys choir in Regensburg, where the Pope visits tomorrow.
The Pope used to make pilgrimages to Altoetting with his father as a boy and keeps a candle with an image of the ''Black Madonna of Altoetting'' on his desk in the Vatican.
He dedicated his entire homily to the Virgin Mary and said Catholics should have total trust in God the way Mary trusted in her son Jesus.
Benedict has said he hopes his trip will revive the faith in Germany, where Catholics make up about a third of the population. He warned yesterday that Western societies were losing their faith and no longer listened to God.
Some in the crowd came out of sheer curiosity.
''Something like this won't happen here again for decades, maybe centuries,'' said Helmut Lemmer, 41, wearing traditional lederhosen and sitting at outdoor cafe with a beer.
Later on today the Pope was visiting Marktl am Inn, a village only 10 km away where he spent the first two years of his life and where he was due to pray in the parish church where he was baptised on the day he was born on April 16, 1927.
Bags of blue paint were thrown yesterday at the bright yellow chalet-like house where he was born.
The Pope has critics in Germany because of his very conservative stance on the place of women in the church and his rejection of the use of condoms, which some say has aided the spread of AIDS, especially in Africa.
REUTERS BDP BST1611