I was in a sleepy Bavarian village, called Marktl am Inn, the day Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI.
That was on the rainy afternoon of April 19th, 2005; just three days after my birthday.
Listening to the news, while driving through Austria in the morning, I had a funny feeling that the man sharing my date of birth might just become the next Pope, after the death of Pope John Paul II.
The village’s famous son had recently held the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II, in Vatican City and was at that very moment sitting in Conclave; to help decide who would become the 265th Pope; 264th successor to Peter.
This was a story I had to cover, before Marktl am Inn became a sought out name on the world map.
We were in Marktl again just last April and so much had changed; apart from the rain.
A sign on the edge of the village now welcomed us to the ‘Birthplace of Pope Benedikt XVI’.
In the village itself, the few sheets of tourist information once available in the lobby of a local Gasthaus had been replaced with a fully-fledged, Marktl Tourist Office; complete with a gallery of pictures gathered during the Pope’s visit to his birthplace on 11th September, 2006.
There are photos of the Pope praying at his own baptismal font and the house of his birth has been turned into a very informative museum.
So the Holy Father will soon have a Holy Father; for the first time in history (excluding non canonically-elected claimant Popes, or antipopes). Catholic or not, seeing a Pope step aside is a very moving moment.
Pope Benedict XVI will be known as ‘His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope-Emeritus’ in retirement and will continue to wear his white cassock; although without the red shoes. No doubt he too will be watching closely for signs of white smoke in March; while deep in prayer at Castel Gandolfo.
Who will the cardinals choose to remind them of Jesus and sit on the throne of Saint Peter, and where does that leave Marktl as a tourist destination?
Marktl will always be somewhere special in my heart but once a new Pope is elected, will pilgrims still be interested in the Benedict Trail (Benediktweg) and follow in the footsteps of a man who was Pope Benedict XVI, between the Rivers Inn and Salzach?