Feb 11 2013 By Cheryl Mullin
The Pope’s 2009 visit to Africa was overshadowed by a row sparked by comments he made while flying to the continent in which he rejected condoms in the fight against Aids.
His decision in 2009 to lift the ex-communication on renegade English cleric Richard Williamson, who made comments suggesting only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews died in the Holocaust and none perished in gas chambers, also caused uproar.
The Pope later issued a letter expressing his regret about the damage the affair caused to relations with the Jewish community, saying he had not known about Williamson’s stance on the Holocaust when he took the decision to lift the ex-communication.
Perhaps his biggest setback as Pope was during his visit to Germany in 2006 when he was caught in a firestorm of criticism from the Islamic world after giving a lecture at his old university of Regensburg.
Quoting from an obscure Medieval text, he cited the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterised some of the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed, Islam’s founder, as “evil and inhuman” – remarks that touched off widespread anger across the Muslim world.
The anger and violence sparked by his comments including attacks on seven churches in the West Bank and Gaza posed one of the biggest international crises involving the Vatican in decades.
In Somalia, gunmen killed an Italian nun and her bodyguard at the entrance of a hospital where she worked, in an attack that some feared was linked to the outrage over the Pope’s remarks.
He later apologised, saying he was “deeply sorry” about the angry reaction to his remarks about Islam and holy war, saying the text he quoted did not reflect his personal opinion.
The Pope was made Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977 after a career as a university professor.
He was born in the village of Marktl am Inn in Bavaria - he explained on a visit to Germany after his election “my heart beats Bavarian”.
His formative years coincided with the lifespan of the Third Reich. His family opposed National Socialism but did not participate in public resistance to the Nazis.
He was forced against his will into Hitler Youth at the age of 14 and into the Wehrmacht at 16, serving in an anti-aircraft unit before deserting towards the end of the war.