Black ribbons, candles: ex-pope Benedict’s German home region in mourning

When Kurt and Anna-Maria Spennesberger heard the news about former pope Benedict XVI's death, they immediately got into their car and drove 200 kilometres to the former pontiff's southern German birth town Marktl.

A picture of late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is seen near the altar during a worship in the Catholic St Oswald church in his birth place Marktl,
A picture of late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is seen near the altar during a worship in the Catholic St Oswald church in his birth place Marktl, southern Germany, on December 31, 2022. (Photo by KERSTIN JOENSSON / AFP)

They had to be at the small town bordering Austria for a special church service saying farewell to Benedict because “we knew Ratzinger personally,” said Kurt, 71, using the ex-pope’s birth name.

“We already had some personal conversations with him, meetings, and that was simply a very human, personal contact,” he added.

Renate and Dane Cupic, 58 and 68, also travelled to Marktl from Austria, about 15 kilometres (10 miles) away, on hearing about Benedict’s demise.

It was “very important” to be there to “say goodbye”, said Dane.

The small town in the southern region of Bavaria, with a population of around 2,800, is synonymous with Benedict.

Candles are seen under the Benedict Column by German artist Joseph Michael Neustifter, as people walk by the the birth house of late former Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in Marktl, southern Germany, on December 31, 2022. (Photo by KERSTIN JOENSSON / AFP)

The house where the former pontiff was born in 1927 stands adjacent to the town hall, which itself is just a few steps away from St Oswald church where Benedict was baptised.

Candles have been placed at the foot of the Benedict column which stands by the town hall, while a black ribbon hangs down from the flags of papal coat of arms at his birth house and at the church.

Across Bavaria, flags at official buildings have also been ordered to fly at half-mast.

“We are mourning our Bavarian pope,” said Markus Soeder, state premier of the region.


Hours after Benedict’s demise, cars began streaming into Marktl slowly as Catholics in the region travelled in to mourn one of their own.

Benedict has always kept in touch with Bavaria — where he taught at the university in the town of Regensburg between 1969 and 1977, and returned regularly to visit his brother, the leader of the cathedral choir.

Speaking in Pentling, the district in Regensburg where Benedict once lived, his former gardener Robert Hofbauer described the ex-pontiff as someone who was always “nice and friendly to everyone, the entire neighbourhood”.

Across Bavaria, church services planned for the last day of the year were turned into remembrance ceremonies for Benedict, including in Regensburg where the cathedral was packed with around 300 people.

Candles are seen near a picture of late former Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in the Catholic St Oswald church in his birth place Marktl, southern Germany, on December 31, 2022. (Photo by KERSTIN JOENSSON / AFP)

One parishioner paying her respects, Hilde Eisenhut, reflected on “a link with him — he was Bavarian — I did my confirmation with him,” the 61-year-old recounted.

In Marktl, about 130 kilometres away, around 200 people attended the service at St Oswald church, where a portrait of Benedict draped with black cloth stood next to a Christmas tree. Another was placed on the other side of the altar.

During the service, Franz Haringer, who is theological director at Benedict’s birth-house — now a museum — underlined the former pope’s “humorous side” and hailed him as a teacher of the faith.

Many others present also had personal memories of the ex-pope, like Josef Oberhuber, 71, who recalled filming him during his visit in 2006.

Oberhuber, a Marktl local, underlined the significance of a pope hailing from the small town.

“It was naturally a great event — such great joy,” he recalled.

Another local, Karl Michael Nuck, 55, recalled Benedict blessing his daughter.

“He was not pope yet but a cardinal. He took quite a few minutes even though it had not been planned, that was a very nice thing.”

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Record number of Catholics leave German Church

More than half a million people in Germany left the Catholic Church last year, the country's bishops' conference said Wednesday, topping a record set in 2021 amid rampant sexual abuse scandals.

Record number of Catholics leave German Church

In a development described by a Catholic members’ group as a “serious crisis”, 522,821 people turned their backs on the Church in 2022, with the strife-racked Cologne diocese — Germany’s largest — the hardest hit.

It was the largest number to walk away from the Church in a single year, topping the previous high of 359,338 set in 2021.

By the end of 2022, 24.8 percent of the EU’s largest nation was registered as Catholic, with some 20.9 million members.

Irme Stetter-Karp, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics, called the figures “sad if not very surprising”.

Noting that the Church had squandered a lot of “trust” with rampant molestation of children by priests, she said the Church would have to work hard to return the faithful to the flock.

The Church “is not being decisive enough in implementing visions for a future of being Christian”, Stetter-Karp criticised in a statement.

“People leaving the Church is a sign of a serious crisis and a push for change.”

READ ALSO: ‘Historic break’: Church-goers now a minority in Germany

Georg Bätzing, head of the German Bishops’ Conference, said the Church was on a path of reform and urged members “not to be discouraged”.

The Protestant Church in Germany counted some 19.1 million members at the end of 2022, with some 380,000 people leaving last year.

Germany’s Catholic Church has been rocked by a long series of allegations of predatory priests abusing children and youths in their congregations. 

READ ALSO: German Catholics challenge Vatican with sweeping reform drive

A study commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference in 2018 concluded that 1,670 clergymen had committed some form of sexual attack against 3,677 minors between 1946 and 2014.

The real number of victims is thought to be much higher.

On Tuesday, German investigators staged raids in the archdiocese of Cologne in a perjury probe against its Cardinal Rainer Maria Wölki linked to media coverage of the Church’s sex abuse scandals.