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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 August 2005, 19:03 GMT 20:03 UK
Rapturous German welcome for Pope
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI was greeted by thousands at Cologne airport
Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in his native Germany for a Catholic youth festival in the city of Cologne.

The Pope's plane was met by cheering crowds as it landed at Cologne-Bonn airport, where Germany's chancellor and president were waiting to greet him.

The assembled crowds also performed a Mexican wave to welcome their visitor.

It is the Pope's first major foreign trip since his election in April. The engagement was originally scheduled for his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

Excited crowds

As he stepped out of the Alitalia plane the blustery wind blew off the Pope's white skullcap.

He looked around for a moment to find it, but soon gave up and proceeded down the steps to the runway.

World Youth Day pilgrims in Cologne

The Pope chose not to kiss the ground when he reached foreign soil, a practice made famous by John Paul II.

But he waved and smiled to the enthusiastic crowd of well-wishers gathered.

Youngsters whooped, chanted "Benedetto" - his name in Italian - as the Pope made his way along the red carpet flanked by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and President Horst Koehler.

Open-air mass

Addressing the crowd, Benedict XVI said he was delighted by the greeting and referred to Germany as his "beloved homeland".

The World Youth Day festival, invented by the late Pope, is held in a different part of the world every three years.

Thousands of young Catholics from around the world have gathered in Cologne for a week of festivities.

The highlight of his visit will be an open-air Mass on Sunday at a venue 27km (16.7 miles) from the city centre.

Preparations are being made to welcome a congregation of up to a million people.

Reaching out

The Pope has frequently bemoaned the waning role the Church plays in Europe and says that he hopes that the trip to Germany will help kick-start "a wave of new faith among young people, especially the youth in Germany and Europe".

During his four-day stay in Cologne, the Pope plans to meet representatives of Germany's Protestant churches, and also Muslims and Jews.

His visit to the Cologne synagogue, rebuilt after World War II, will mark only the second time in history that a head of the Catholic Church has entered a Jewish place of worship.

The BBC's Rome correspondent David Willey says the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is a much shier person than his predecessor, and is not at home among huge crowds.

Vatican observers will be watching to see what sort of relationship he is able to establish with young Catholics, our correspondent says.

Many of them have been openly critical of the prohibitions he issued during the 20 years when he headed the Roman Catholic Church's disciplinary body.

See the scene as Pope Benedict arrives in Cologne

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