Roman Journal: Getting used to a new pope--8
Our Sunday Visitor Publisher Greg Erlandson traveled to Rome to cover the Papal Conclave. He'll filed reports as the week progressed with his observations and commentary.
VATICAN CITY - Seeing Pope Benedict XVI for the first time dressed in the white robes of the Pontiff was a shock. No matter how much one celebrated his election or was simply curious about this new Pope, perhaps the biggest challenge in the first days of this new pontificate for many Catholics was simply getting used to this visual image.
It has also been a challenge for many to stop referring to him as Ratzinger. While European journalists often refer to popes by their family name - Papa Wojtyla, for example, or Papa Montini - Papa Ratzinger still sounded foreign to the ear. At the same time, one could not simply refer to everything that came before April 19 as the work of Pope Benedict.
So it evolved in the first days that people would do find themselves in the same paragraph referring to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when discussing his homily at the April 18 Mass for the election of a new pope and to Pope Benedict when referring to his April 20 homily to the cardinals the day after his election as pontiff.
These small awkwardnesses will disappear over time, but they point to an immediate difference between this pontificate and the last. John Paul II was an unknown who was accepted as Pope almost immediately but who had to win over the Italians - which he did skilfully. Benedict XVI, on the other hand, is known to Italians and most of the Church in his previous role as head of the doctrinal congregation. His first challenge is to convince us that he is the pope.
He is doing that with a blend of humility and spiritual awareness that has caught his critics off guard and intrigued those who are following his first public utterances closely.
In the homily that he delivered at the Mass for the election of the Pope on April 18, then Cardinal Ratzinger did not use the occasion to campaign in any way before his fellow cardinals. At the same time, he spoke movingly of the friendship of Jesus and the need for both truth and charity, while at the same time making it clear that there are grave threats in the world, not the least of which is what he called the "dictatorship of relativism."
It was as if he was stating with simple clarity that this is who he is, and he will not blow this way and that with the winds of change. "He has his eyes fixed on heaven," said one Vatican official later. "Nobody owns him," said another more bluntly.
The evening of his election, his speech to the cardinals was hurriedly translated into Latin for his first formal talk as Pope on April 20.
Speaking in the Sistine Chapel, surrounded by the men who elected him, he called them "dear ones" and spoke of his "sense of inadequacy and human turmoil for the responsibility entrusted to me."
He also referred to Pope John Paul II, calling him a "great pope" and his "venerated predecessor" who was telling him, "Do not be afraid!"
Pope John Paul left to his successor "a Church that is more courageous, freer, younger," a Church that "is not afraid of the future," he said.
Then Pope Benedict laid out his agenda for the Church:
· A continued dedication to enacting the Second Vatican Council, "in faithful continuity with the millennia-old tradition of the Church"
· A commitment to Year of the Eucharist, which he called "the hear of Christian life and the source of the evangelizing mission of the Church"
· A commitment to improving ecumenical relations in a significant, not merely symbolic, way
· The necessity of preaching the Gospel to a frightened world
· A willingness to contribute to "true social development…that respects the dignity of all human beings"
· A focus on young people.
This agenda builds on the great initiatives of Pope John Paul II, who in turn built on the initiatives of Pope Paul VI. This is, at its heart, the truth of papal transitions. Unlike the political model that journalists revert to so easily, the popes are by nature conservators of what they have been given, and they build one upon the other rather than imposing new agendas like a victorious political party.
In the Mass of Installation on April 24, Pope Benedict underscored this point by eschewing the traditional opportunity to tell the world what the program of his pontificate will be.
"At this moment there is no need for me to present a program of governance," he said, referring people back to the April 20 speech to the cardinals.
Then, preaching in Italian, he added: "My real program of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole Church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by Him, so that He himself will lead the Church at this hour of our history."
As he did throughout the week, the Pope expressed both a powerful faith and a clear-eyed awareness of the troubles of the world, the suffering of the "lost sheep."
Using the images of the Good Shepherd and the Galilean fisherman, Pope Benedict reflected on his responsibility, and ours, to bring the good news to the world.
Underscoring a sense of continuity, the Pope ended his homily quoting the first words of Pope John Paul: "Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!"
Then he added in an exhortation particularly directed at the thousands of young people in the audience: "Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return."
Italian newspapers have been filled with interviews with the Pope’s brother, Georg, who is also a priest and who said that he had not wanted his brother to be pope, but rather had hoped he would retire to his Bavarian house to relax and study in peace after two decades in Rome.
Such was not to be. And the 78-year-old pontiff knows that now his life is not his own. He has done as he is teaching us to do, surrendering to God’s will with joy for the sake of the Church. Thus begins the reign of the 265th pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI.
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