Evaluation of Benedict XVI's Visit to Cologne

By French Journalist Jean-Marie Guénois

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COLOGNE, Germany, AUG. 22, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI established a style, and a direction, in the addresses he delivered during his first international apostolic trip, says Jean-Marie Guénois, a writer for the Parisian newspaper La Croix.

Guénois, who is regarded as one of the leading experts in religious journalism in France, was for a decade a correspondent in Rome, where he founded the news agency I-Media. He also is the host of a religious news program on French public television.

Q: Has Benedict XVI passed the test?

Guénois: The new Pope was not expected as a messiah but as a German Pope returning to this native country, as well as by the «John Paul II generation.» The way Benedict XVI descended from the plane on his arrival, in a discreet manner, without straining for effects, concerned not to trip on the steps, already marked the tone.

Aware of the importance of the moment, he gave himself at times with some timidity, often uncomfortable before the huge crowd, always with much humanity, paying attention to each one, to the degree possible.

He read his addresses with care, without rhetoric, wearing his large spectacles. He was not seeking to seduce but chose measured words, not hoping for the immediate effect of applause, but for long-term rooting. Those who were expecting a strong gesture might be disappointed, but the majority has already adopted him.

Q: Has a «Benedict XVI generation» been born?

Guénois: He certainly doesn’t like the term at all. Above all, however, it is too early to evaluate seriously the new Pope’s impact on young people.

However, it is impressive to see how he addressed them. He did not bring up moral issues, preferring to become a catechist to begin in a certain sense from zero and share the joy of being a Christian. Instead of John Paul II’s «charism of gestures,» to which the masses responded, Benedict XVI brought the «charism of the word» of a teacher.

Very pedagogic, very concrete, at times Benedict XVI was striking, as when in his first interview he deplored that Christian wisdom is not something of «a stale taste» or when he spoke of adoration as «mouth to mouth contact,» or of «nuclear fission» to illustrate the power of the sacrament.

Therefore, one cannot say that he did not succeed in communicating with young people. He is different. A «Benedict XVI generation» might be created, especially among adolescents who knew John Paul II when his strength had waned. «It is odd to see a Pope who walks,» one of them observed.

Q: Has Germany reconciled with Rome?

Guénois: It was not the main objective of World Youth Day, scheduled three years ago in Germany, and it has taken place in the recently elected Pope’s homeland.

Three meetings made bonds possible whose solidity will have to be verified: the reception at the airport, where the happiness and pride of the president of the republic seemed to be in unison with that of the people, at least at that moment; the visit to the synagogue, which allowed Benedict XVI to turn symbolically before the eyes of the whole world a dark and tragic page of the nation’s collective conscience; [and] the meeting with German bishops on Sunday, August 21, in which the Pope affirmed his closeness to this Church, inviting it to capitalize on all the energies it mobilized for World Youth Day.

Q: What message did he leave?

Guénois: At the political level, he launched two signs of warning: the growth of anti-Semitism, against which the Pope firmly cautioned in this visit to the synagogue; and terrorism of religious origin, mentioned before Muslim leaders, to whom the Pope pointed out as the best way the struggle against intolerance and the need for respect, rejecting the fatality of hatred to build a civilization of peace.

At the pastoral level, two strong lines may be discerned. In the first place, continuity with his predecessor and with the line of the Second Vatican Council to advance toward Christian unity, ecumenism, as well as in the dialogue with Judaism and Islam, on the condition of having thorough knowledge and understanding of the implied differences, which cannot be given up.

In the second place, there was a novelty in the program proposed to young people. On the first day, in the Saturday Vigil or the Sunday Mass, the Holy Father proposed an ambitious idea: no more and no less than «changing the world.» But not with the force of power, or «commands from a throne on high,» but by learning «God’s ways,» not by constructing «a private God» for ourselves; there are «no private ways» in the Church, explained Benedict XVI. Young people must develop a «sensitivity to the needs of others» which «must be seen in our willingness to share.»

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