So, the Pope has arrived in his beloved Bavaria and has kicked off this very personal pilgrimage in Munich. A (non-Catholic) German friend who was present texted me to say that the Holy Father delivered a beautiful speech, in which he compared himself to the bear of St Corbinian.
St Corbinian was an eighth century Frankish bishop who did much to establish the Church in Bavaria and founded a monastery in Freising. Since Pope Benedict started his episcopal ministry in the diocese of Munich-Freising, the symbol of his saintly predecessor (a bear) appears on his arms. And therein lies a story.
According to legend, during a journey to Rome the saint's horse was killed by a bear. After the animal was reprimanded, the bear was commanded to carry the bishop's load to the Eternal City, where it was set free. This is a neat symbol not only for the saint's 'taming' of paganism by bringing the Faith to southern Germany, but also for the burden of the episcopal office. No wonder that Ratzinger felt close in spirit to this beast of burden when he became a bishop in 1977 and (even more so) after his election as Supreme Pontiff. Pope Benedict said today that St Corbinian's bear helped him renew his 'yes' to God on a daily basis. Indeed, the Pope wryly noted that, while the bear was set free in Rome, in his case the Lord had decided differently. Let us pray that the Holy Father will be supported in the carrying of his great burden.