THE POPE'S five day pastoral visit to West Germany, which begins today, is to include meetings with Government leaders, representatives of all major religious groups, and will culminate in the beatification of two victims of Nazi persecution.
According to the schedule released by the Vatican last week, the papal tour of the predominantly Catholic country (27 million Germans are Catholic) also includes a Mass celebrated in Munich's Olympic vtadium and visits kt the Marian shrine of Kevelaer.
Despite the 27 West German dioceses' undisputed wealth — contributions to the country's bishop's totalled £1.8 million in 1985 — the Pope is expected to address the issue of eroding religious practice during his tour, the second he has undertaken in West Germany since he became Pontiff.
The most recent statistics show West German Catholics to be generous with their money — the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church together constitute the nation's second bigger employer — but not with their time: only 32 per cent of German Catholics attend Mass on Sundays, and only 19 per cent of 16-29 year olds are regular Mass goers.
Moreover, declining vocations are also cause for concern, with only 10-12 new priests ordained annually in Munich, one of the largest dioceses with over two million Catholics. Traditional Catholic parish organisations, too, need "reactivating", according to Fr Bruno Fink, a pastor in Munich.
While the traditional groups do not command following, German lay organisations — undefined by canon law and run by laymen — are flourishing. It is this powerful lay arm of the Church, which has come under much criticism from the Vatican
since the Polish Pope was elected, because of its sometimes dissenting policies.
Especially difficult, from the Vatican's stand point, is "Kirchen von Unten", or Church from Below, an umbrella organisation for 65 groups which frequently attack church teachings on secular matters ranging from AIDS to immigration laws.
The organisation's central committee, which represents more than four million people, includes Catholic women, workers, youths and parents. Activities include the running of the national, biannual Catholic Days — when more than 100,000 Catholics from throughout West Germany gather for all-day festivities and conferences; and the publication of papers on secular modern subjects — from AIDS to invitro fertilisation.
Although "Kirchen von Unten" has earned praise in the past from many German bishops for providing a focus point for Catholic laymen a number of more traditional-minded German Catholics wonder how the Pope views what one Catholic lay leader, Prises Volk, calls " a movement that can cause intranquillity".