Pope begins his visit to Poland

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Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Warsaw yesterday on the first pastoral visit of his papacy, which ends on Sunday with a visit to the Nazi extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Before leaving the Vatican, the German Pope, who was a member of the Hitler Youth at a time when it was compulsory, said that at the camp he would be "thinking of the many dead, but also learn how it was possible for man to fall so far beneath his dignity".

Thousands of Catholics and most of the Polish government welcomed him at the airport. Speaking of his Polish predecessor, John Paul II, with whom as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger he worked for many years, he said: "I have come to follow in the footsteps of his life."

Poland was chosen for Benedict XVI's first trip because of his commitment to the late pope's rapid canonisation. He said the visit was "no mere sentimental journey ... rather a journey of faith".

At St John's Cathedral in Warsaw, he told the congregation priests "should stay out of politics... The priest is expected to be an expert in the spiritual life."