How Cardinal Electors See the New Pope

A German Pilgrim Center; an Interview With Joseph Ratzinger

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By Catherine Smibert

ROME, APRIL 28, 2005 ( As the world gets acquainted with Benedict XVI, I have had a chance to catch up with some who shared his life closely over the past few weeks — the cardinal electors who participated in the conclave.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria, for instance, said he felt «an immense gratitude to God and gratefulness to the Holy Father that he has accepted the burden of this election. … I am sure it will be a very great pontificate.»

The cardinal spoke as he left the gate next to the building that houses the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, whose prefect was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now the 265th Roman Pontiff.

Asked about the Pope’s selection of the name Benedict, the Austrian prelate explained how the Holy Father himself told the cardinals the reasons behind it.

«He told us how, as Benedict XV was the Pope of peace in a time of war, that peace is one message this name brings,» said Cardinal Schönborn, 60.

«Then there’s St. Benedict, the father of the monks and the patron of Europe — the man who said that we have to order all things to Christ and direct all things in our life to him,» he added. «Therefore, I think that this name says that he is blessed, a ‘benedictus,’ and a blessing for us.»

Cardinal James Stafford, major penitentiary of the Church, said having a new Pope was like having a father again.

«With the death of Pope John Paul II, the whole Church felt the absence of their universal father and now with Pope Benedict XVI, our father has returned and we rejoice, giving thanks to God in Jesus for that wonderful gift,» said the 72-year-old American cardinal.

He too agrees that a Benedict XVI may be just what Europe needs.

«The tragedy of Europe is rooted in the eclipse of the Christian identity of individual Europeans and their society as a whole,» Cardinal Stafford said. «Unfortunately that is being repeated in the EU. There is a kind of Christophobia, a fear of Christ, not just a withdrawal from him. …

«Pope Benedict will be able to bring to the people of Europe a new, rediscovered sense of the dignity of what it means to be a child of God — to have been chosen by God in Christ to be his child.»

But Cardinal Stafford insists that Benedict XVI’s scope will not be limited to Europe. And a fellow U.S. cardinal, Archbishop Francis George of Chicago, agrees.

«This is a man who has a huge sense of history,» said Cardinal George, 68. He recalled Benedict XVI’s words: «I too hope in this short reign to be a man of peace and to be able to see to it that the world will be spared any future wars.»

On issues of war and peace, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, said that just in having a Pope of German nationality means «World War II is over and completely over.»

To have this man follow in the footsteps of another whose homeland was almost annihilated by Germany denotes that «we now look forward to the future with the hope of reconciliation,» said Cardinal Pell.

I asked Cardinal Pell what he thought of what secular media described as the «unexpected responses of joy and satisfaction and support» from the young in St. Peter’s Square when the name of the new Pope was announced.

The cardinal replied: «Many of the young people today who are keen followers or keen members of the Church, have been out and about and have rejected the alternatives.

«The Christ that they’re following in the Church is the Christ of the Gospels. And they recognize in the new Pope, as they did in the previous one, someone who is deeply committed to explaining what Christ is about and trying to bring Christ to them. I hope that with this new Pope, they will find him to be not just a teacher but, what the old Eastern traditions in the Church used to call a father. That is, someone who is a source of wisdom, somebody to be admired, someone to be followed.

More excitement from the youth came as Pope Benedict XVI confirmed his intent to attend World Youth Day in Cologne.

Cardinal Pell analyzed this response also: «It’s not someone who will just give an intellectual answer like a set of mathematical equations. I hope and pray and think it will be true, that in this very different personality of Benedict XVI, young people will find a leader whom they can love and they can follow.»

Another major theme underlying this pontificate is ecumenism.

A cardinal deeply involved in ecumenical dialogue is the archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, 72. He sees much hope in Benedict XVI.

«I believe he’s been very open, so I don’t think anyone should have any worries about the ecumenical route — it will continue, no doubt at all,» the British cardinal said. «From my point of view, Pope Benedict XVI will continue on the ecumenical road from which I often say there’s no exit.»

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa summed up the sentiments he says have been shared among the cardinals with regard to their selection of Pope over the past weeks.

«After many synods,» said the 64-year-old archbishop of Durban, «I would have to say that … it was only in these recent times that one got to see how the man can operate at such a different level and how as dean of the cardinals [he] responded so well to any requests or suggestions that were made about how we should be actually handling the various congregations, etc.

«His conduct was admirable throughout and … we already saw how excellently he led us through the days preceding the conclave.»

Cardinal Napier believes that among the compliments he heard, one of the greatest came after the Monday Mass prior to the conclave:

«A fellow cardinal said, ‘That must have been one of the most spiritual experiences I’ve had for a long, long time.’ Once again it was due to Cardinal Ratzinger’s wonderfully gentle, approachable style.»

* * *

Guten Tag Rom!

Pilgrims continue to flock to Rome, but this time the flags have changed.

The distinct colors of black, red and yellow have been flying high as German Catholics have flocked into Italy in the days after the election of «their» Pope.

Ready to meet and greet these determined faithful is the German Pilgrimage Center, located just at the top of the main street leading from St. Peter’s Square — Via della Conciliazione, 51.

Begun by Monsignor Antonio Tedesco over 30 years ago, the center aims to offer an «open door to people visiting the area of St. Peter’s, especially the German community, to bring their questions, hopes and confusions.»

An Italian priest who loves German culture and had been a longtime friend of Cardinal Ratzinger’s, Monsignor Tedesco has been pleased by the flood of visitors.

«There has been almost an invasion of German-speaking people, which is good, because we have problems of faith and division in Austria, Switzerland and Germany,» said Monsignor Tedesco, whose last name means «German.» «I believe in relying on the providence of God and I see his hand in this time.»

«I’m also enjoying the possibility to shed some light on the great personality of this Pope, my friend, to those who have a different image of him,» the priest said as he showed me photos of himself and the future Benedict XVI together throughout the years.

An aide at the center, Christian Meia, showed me other photos plus the center’s Web site.

«I see it all as a great opportunity to evangelize,» he said of the new papacy. «I’m finding that these people do not just want directions to their hotels but tickets to papal audiences and the like.»

It is thus with a great sense of anticipation that the young Germans working in Rome look ahead to the World Youth Day in Cologne. «We just pray that through these meetings with this Pope of German origin,» Meia said, «the true values of
Christ will spread across the earth.»

* * *

Cardinal Ratzinger on … Himself

Vatican Radio has been conceding to a multitude of requests to rebroadcast an interview it did with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger after the publication of his 2001 book «God and the World.»

Asked to paint himself in words, the then cardinal said: «A self-portrait would be impossible. It’s difficult to judge oneself. All I can say is that I come from a very simple and humble family and I don’t really feel like a cardinal. I feel I’m just a man.

«In Germany I lived in a small town with people who work in agriculture and handicrafts and there I feel at home. At the same time, I try to be that way in the office too. If that’s what I succeed in doing, I’m not the one to say.»

The then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith continued: «I always remember, with great affection, the goodness of my father and mother. And for me goodness also means the ability to say ‘no,’ because goodness that lets anything go can’t be good for another.

«Sometimes goodness can also mean saying ‘no,’ even with the risk of sounding contradictory. But this must be nourished not by a sense of power or vindication but by an ultimate goodness which is the desire to do good to others. These are my criteria, this is my background; other people can add to it what they wish.»

* * *

Catherine Smibert can be reached at

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