Italian president praises outgoing pope in German's hometown

Napolitano expresses 'heartfelt, affectionate thoughts'

Italian president praises outgoing pope in German's hometown

Munich, February 27 - Retiring Pope Benedict XVI is in "my heartfelt and affectionate thoughts," Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said Wednesday at a speech in the German pontiff's home region. Benedict, who was born as Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, has "my admiration for the responsibility he has a crucial moment for the Catholic Church," added Napolitano. Benedict, 85, announced on February 11 that he would resign on Thursday for the good of the Church, because he said he lacked the mental and physical strength to continue leading the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. His lunchtime speech was given in Munich, capital of the Bavaria province where Ratzinger grew up, and came on the first leg of Napolitano's state visit to Germany. The president, who himself is retiring in May at the end of his seven-year term, also praised the "strong community of faith and religious values" shared by Italians and Germans as well as a shared commitment to human rights and freedoms. But it appeared that all is not completely smooth in the two countries' relations. Earlier in the day, Napolitano cancelled a meeting scheduled in Berlin with Germany's centre-left SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrueck without giving a reason. However, on Tuesday Social Democrat Steinbrueck said he was "horrified by the victory of two clowns" in Italy's elections this week, referring to centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi and anti-establishment comedian Beppe Grillo, both of whom won more votes than expected and made for no clear majority in the parliament.

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