By LAURA STEVENS
BERLIN—Pope Benedict XVI warned against the growing apathy toward religion in his homeland on the first day of his first state visit to Germany that has drawn both the faithful and angry protesters.
Pope Benedict, with Ms. Merkel, arrived in Berlin Thursday, where he began a four-day visit to his native land.
"We are witnessing a growing indifference to religion in society, which considers the issue of truth as something of an obstacle in its decision-making, and instead gives priority to utilitarian considerations," Pope Benedict said after meeting with German President Christian Wulff. "Religion is one of these foundations for a successful social life."
Germans are struggling with challenges to church membership. Tens of thousands of people have left the German church this year, according to the German Bishops' Conference, though Catholics still account for roughly 30% of the country's roughly 80 million population. Some critics say aspects of the church are seen as outdated, including its disapproval of homosexuality and a limited role for women in leadership.
Additionally, though many here take pride in the pope's German roots, a recent sex-abuse scandal involving clergy has damaged the Catholic Church's standing in the country. Hundreds of sex-abuse allegations surfaced last year, prompting a series of investigations.
The pope celebrated an evening Mass Thursday in Berlin's historic Olympic Stadium, where he was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd estimated at 60,000 and a sea of yellow Vatican flags. Some senior German politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, who isn't Catholic, also attended.
Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Germany late Thursday on his first state visit to a homeland still reeling from a clergy sex-abuse scandal that has fueled an exodus from the church. Laura Stevens on Lunch Break reports from Olympic Stadium in Berlin.
"It's an important experience for Berlin," said Julius Schantz, 64 years old, a Catholic who came hours before the Mass to make sure he was on time.
The pope also is scheduled to visit Erfurt and Freiburg during his four-day visit.
In his speech to parliament, he focused on the lessons to be learned from Germany's role in World War II and the place he hopes God will play in the country going forward.
Germans "have seen how power became divorced from right, how power opposed right and crushed it, so that the state became an instrument for destroying right—a highly organized band of robbers, capable of threatening the whole world and driving it to the edge of the abyss," he said. "To serve right and to fight against the dominion of wrong is and remains the fundamental task of the politician."
Hundreds of demonstrators, meanwhile, marched through Berlin's city center Thursday afternoon to protest the visit by the pope, who was archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1982. Several adults who say they were abused by clergy members as children held a small rally at Brandenburg Gate, urging the pope and other church members to take firm steps to prevent further cases.
The pope is expected to meet privately with abuse victims during his visit, but he didn't address the issue publicly on Thursday.
The pope, who was elected in 2005, has made a central goal of his papacy reversing the decline of Catholic influence in Europe. But so far it has been a challenge, as clergy child sex-abuse scandals across Europe shake the church.
Still, the pope's visit has drawn an emotional response from the faithful across the country.
Mr. Schantz said that the scandal wouldn't drive him from the church and is seen by most Catholics as a surmountable problem that will not have a long-term effect.
"I can understand that there are protesters here, but in Berlin there are always protesters," he said.