Dear Fellow Parishioners,
This is a third reflection on the life and ministry of Pope Benedict XVI. It will focus on his election and the first partof his papacy. Due to limitations on space, a fourth (and final– I promise!) reflection will be in next week’s “Pastor’s Desk.”
For at least a century, Vaticanologists have used the term “papabile” (i.e., “pope-able”) for cardinals believed likely to be elected pope. Three recent popes– John XXIII, John Paul I and John Paul II were non-papabili, with John Paul II the most unexpected of all. When his name was announced from the balcony of St. Peter’s – “Habemus Papam! Carolum Cardinalem Wojtyla”, exclamations of “Who?! Who?!” could be heard. As a cardinal from behind the Iron Curtain, many had never heard of him. As the first non-Italian pope since Adrian VI in 1522. There has not been an Italian pope since.
After Pope John Paul II’s long illness and public farewell, the Conclave of 2005 was not unexpected. The three leading candidates – at least from public sources – were Cardinal Ratzinger (24-year head of the Congregation of theDoctrine of the Faith), Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Archbishop of Buenos Aires, future Pope Francis), and Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the Jesuit Archbishop of Milan. At the final ballot, Ratzinger’s only serious competition was Bergoglio, and Ratzinger was elected pope with the required 2/3 super-majority.
The first of the two events attracting world-wide attention by Cardinal Ratzinger as Dean of the College of Cardinals(elected by the cardinals as second in order to the papacy itself) was his celebration of the state Funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II, before the largest gathering of heads of state in world history, representing almost 200 countries. His deeply moving and personal homily was widely praised. The second event was his homily at the “Mass for Electing a New Roman Pontiff” where he famously used the term, “dictatorship of relativism” to describe the post-Christian culture. This homily was widely seen as a manifesto of his views regarding the evangelization of culture, and of what sort of papacy he intended, if elected. Rarely has a pope been elected after so clear a disclosure of his guiding principles and priorities.
Despite his diffident personality – he never seemed fully comfortable in public appearances – he was a strong, albeitunderstated, defender not only of his understanding of Catholic teaching, but also of Europe as an historically Christian society whose roots should be preserved and defended. He opposed Turkey’s entrance into the European Union, on the not-unreasonable grounds that its culture and history are not European. It was a remarkable, though not unprecedented, entry of a pope into modern European politics. Notably, Benedict XVI was decidedly more pro-American than other popes, more than one of whom was skeptical of American religious pluralism, among other things.
Oops! I’ve run out of room and will extend my reflection of Pope Benedict XVI one more week. Stay tuned one more time!
Fr. Bill Donahue