Pope Benedict Flies To Vienna

As Pope Benedict XVI began the seventh international trip of his pontificate, flood warnings were declared in Austria as rains refused to abate.

A native German-speaking Pope is a novelty for Austrians, but Pope Benedict will be lucky to receive the welcome that he did in Poland last year, where the faith burns decidedly stronger.

Whilst tradition is accorded a higher respect in Austria than in many European countries, the Roman Catholic Church has lost many of its flock in the last decade. Sex scandals within the Church have not helped matters, whilst today's Austrians look less favourably on the Church's awkwardness over female priests, its condemnation of contraception and the enforced celibacy of male priests.

Nevertheless, tens of thousands are expected to turn out to catch a glimpse of their Pope, and the army will help coordinate security. Several of the Pontiff's engagements carry powerful symbolic resonance. Pope Benedict will kneel at the Shoah Memorial at Vienna's historic Judenplatz (Jewish Square) on Friday in remembrance of one of Europe's most historic Jewish communities. On Saturday he will travel to the Mariazell Basilica - the main goal of his pilgrimage - to celebrate the 850th anniversary of that foundation.

Although church attendance figures have significantly dropped in recent years, Austrian churchmen are hoping that the Papal visit will help turn peoples minds to spiritual concerns. "Now, more than ever, our society needs the gospel," said Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, Austria's foremost man of the cloth.


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