Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI is presented to the World

Habemus papam

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, a long-time guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy, was elected the new pope yesterday evening in the first Roman Catholic conclave of the new millennium. He chose the name Pope Benedict XVI.

In Gibraltar the bells of the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned rang out as the clergy welcomed the news that the world again has a pope.

Ratzinger emerged onto the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, where he waved to a wildly cheering crowd of tens of thousands and gave his first blessing as pope. Other cardinals clad in their crimson robes came out on other balconies to watch him. Pilgrims chanted “Benedict! Benedict!" as the church’s 265th pontiff appeared.

“Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me - a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord," he said after being introduced by Chilean Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estivez.

“The fact that the Lord can work and act even with insufficient means consoles me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers," the new pope said. “I entrust myself to your prayers."

Gibraltar’s Vicar General Paul Bear last night said the church in Gibraltar was pleased. “We are happy that the Holy Spirit has given us this pope. This is not like a political election but something very spiritual. This is God’s man.” Father Bear recognised that as Cardinal Ratzinger was considered to be reserved and intense and a hardliner as far as doctrine is concerned. “But we should not think that this meant things were going to change in the sense that the doctrine of the church is the doctrine of the church. The name he has chosen is very significant especially if it is after Pope Benedict XV who in 1917 was a very human pope and one of the finest of the last century. This was the pope who opened the church to the poor and spent Vatican money on building hospitals as well as spreading the church through diplomacy. We know the new pope is a great theologist we now have to see his pastoral side. I think we have a very good pope.”

Ratzinger, the first German pope in centuries, had served John Paul II since 1981 as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In that position, he has disciplined church dissidents and upheld church policy against attempts by liberals for reforms. He turned 78 on Saturday.

The new pope had gone into the conclave with the most buzz among two dozen leading candidates. He had impressed many faithful with his stirring homily at the funeral of John Paul II, who died April 2 at age 84.

White smoke poured from the Sistine Chapel and bells tolled earlier to announce the conclave had produced a pope. Flag-waving pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square chanted: "Viva il Papa!" or “Long live the pope!"

The bells rang after a confusing smoke signal that Vatican Radio initially suggested was black but then declared was too difficult to call. White smoke is used to announce a pope’s election to the world.

It was one of the fastest elections in the past century: Pope Pius XII was elected in 1939 in three ballots on one day, while Pope John Paul I was elected in 1978 in four ballots in one day. The new pope was elected after either four or five ballots over two days.

“It’s only been 24 hours, surprising how fast he was elected," Vatican Radio said, commenting on how the new pope was elected after just four or five ballots.

More pilgrims were pouring into St. Peter’s Square, their eyes fixed on the burgundy-draped balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica where the new pope’s name was to be read out and the pontiff himself introduced. Pilgrims said the rosary as they awaited the name of the new pope and prelates stood on the roof of the Apostolic Palace, watching as the crowd nearly doubled in size.

Niels Hendrich, a 40-year-old salesman from Hamburg, Germany, jumped up and down with joy and called his father on a cell phone. “Habemus papam!" he shouted into the phone, using the Latin for: “We have a pope."

The 265th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church succeeds John Paul II, who gained extraordinary popularity over a 26-year pontificate, history’s third-longest papacy. Millions mourned him around the world in a tribute to his charisma.

Antoinette Hastings, from the US, rose from her wheelchair, grasping her hands together and crying. She has artificial knees, making it tough to stand.

“I feel blessed, absolutely blessed," she said. “I just wish the rest of my family were here to experience this with me."

After the bells started to ring, people on the streets of Rome immediately started heading from all directions toward Vatican City. Some priests and seminarians in clerical garb were running. Nuns pulled up their long skirts and jogged toward the Vatican. Drivers were honking horns and some people were closing stores early and joining the crowds. Police immediately tried to direct traffic but to little effect.

Cardinals had faced a choice over whether to seek an older, skilled administrator who could serve as a "transitional" pope while the church absorbs John Paul’s legacy, or a younger dynamic pastor and communicator - perhaps from Latin America or elsewhere in the developing world where the church is growing.

While John Paul, a Pole, was elected to challenge the communist system in place in eastern Europe in 1978 the new pontiff faces new issues: the need for dialogue with Islam, the divisions between the wealthy north and the poor south as well as problems within his own church.

These include the priest sex-abuse scandals that have cost the church millions in settlements in the US and elsewhere; coping with a chronic shortage of priests and nuns in the West; and halting the stream of people leaving a church indifferent to teachings they no longer find relevant.

Under John Paul, the church’s central authority grew, often to dismay of bishops and rank-and-file Catholics around the world.

Even though John Paul appointed all but two of the men who elected the new pope, it was no guarantee that the new man would necessarily be in his mould.

Pope John XXIII was 77 when he was elected pope in 1958 and viewed as a transitional figure, but he called the Second Vatican Council that revolutionised the church from within and opened up its dialogue with non-Catholics.

The new pope will have to decide whether to keep up the kind of foreign travel that was a hallmark of John Paul’s papacy, with his 104 pilgrimages abroad.

The new man may be locked into one foreign trip - the mid-August Catholic youth day gathering in Cologne, Germany. John Paul had agreed to visit and organisers have already spent millions of pounds in preparations.

Challenges facing New Pope

Pope Benedict faces some major challenges as the new head of the world’s one billion Roman Catholics.

Vatican Finances: The Holy See has run deficits for three years thanks to the dollar’s slide, the effect of clergy sex scandals on donations and Pope John Paul II’s expensive diplomatic network.

Secularism: The number of Catholics seeking to become priests and nuns has dropped sharply in Europe and North America. Church attendance is also down in those regions.

Moral Teachings: Despite the church’s stand against abortion and birth control, many Catholics, especially in wealthy nations, go their own way on moral issues.

Sex Abuse Scandals: Anger over sexual abuse by priests haunts the church in several nations, particularly the US, which is the Vatican’s biggest single source of donations and revenue.

Church Gobernance: Liberals were unhappy with John Paul II’s centralisation of decision-making at the Vatican. They want national bishops councils and also lay people, to have more say.

Women's Role: Advocates for women continue pushing for a greater and more equal role in the church, arguing that priest shortages will eventually force the Vatican to accept female clergy.

Interfaith Relations: John Paul II made strides in improving ties with Protestants, Jews and Muslims, but relations remain strained with the Russian Orthodox church and some liberal Protestants.

Religious Competition: Evangelical Protestant churches are gaining adherents in Latin America and Muslim preachers are making inroads in Africa.

Social Justice: The new pope must speak as a credible moral voice to church members and the world on such problems as war and peace, human rights and economic justice for the poor.

Biomedical Ethics: Technological developments in medicine, such as stem cell research that can destroy human embryos, are increasingly forcing the church to define new moral policies.

John Paul’s Shadow: John Paul II captured the world’s affection like no other pontiff and it will be tough to emerge from his shadow in pursuing the new papacy.

Related Links:

BBC Profile of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger now Pope Benedict XVI

The Ratzinger Fan Club

Wikipedia - Pope Benedict XVI

Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vatican's Enforcer of the Faith at


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