By Carmen Elena Villa
ROME, APRIL 19, 2010 (Zenit.org).- “After the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord.” With these words, Benedict XVI presented himself as the new Pope on April 19, 2005, before giving his blessing “urbi et orbi.”
His words came after the white smoke from the Sistine Chapel at 6 p.m. Rome time paved the way for Chilean Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estévez to announce, “habemus Papam.”
It had been Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s third conclave, having been made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1977. For 24 years, he had served as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
This great humanist has the papal record for having written most books before taking the Chair of Peter: He has 142 published works, which present his rich theology and spirituality, characterized by very simple explanations of the great mysteries of faith.
A man of profoundly human traits, Benedict XVI likes cats, plays the piano and considers Mozart his favorite composer. His parents were named Joseph and Mary. He is the brother of another priest, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger; the two were ordained together in 1951.
After finishing the theme of the Psalms, which John Paul II had begun in the Wednesday audiences, Benedict XVI took up a topic that for him has always been fundamentally important: the tradition of Christianity and the teaching of the first centuries. He dedicated several audiences to speak of each of the Twelve Apostles, according to sacred Scripture and Tradition. Then he went deeper into the fathers of the Church, illustrating how their thought is relevant today.
This Pope has initiated two thematic years to highlight certain elements of Christianity. The first was the Pauline Jubilee to commemorate the 2,000th anniversary of the Apostle’s birth. The inauguration and closing of this jubilee took place in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, where the remains of St. Paul still rest. The Pontiff also dedicated various general audiences to speak of this key figure in Church history, who became a Christian after persecuting the Church.
As well, the Holy Father initiated a year to celebrate the priesthood, a year he will bring to a close in June. With this year, he has marked the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests.
During his pontificate, he wrote “Jesus of Nazareth,” explaining that it is to be taken as the work of a theologian, not the Pope. The book reveals Jesus Christ as son of God, totally obedient to the Father, without losing any of his humanity. The second volume of the work is expected for the end of this year.
Three encyclicals have illustrated this Pontiff’s incredible intellectual talent at the service of the faith: “Deus Caritas Est” (December 2005) is divided in two parts. The first considers “some essential facts concerning the love which God mysteriously and gratuitously offers to man, together with the intrinsic link between that Love and the reality of human love.” And the second part considers the “practice of love” or loving our neighbor.
Next came “Spe Salvi” (November 2007), in which the Pope assures that thanks to hope, the human person can face the present, no matter how difficult it appears. He exhorts mankind to keep their sights focused on the eternal.
And then “Caritas in Veritate” (June 2009) speaks of Christian charity always rooted in truth, which will lead to true development. Benedict XVI thus paid homage to Paul VI and his 1967 “Populorum Progressio.”
In these five years as Pope, Benedict XVI has beatified 516 people. Thanks to a proposal from the retired prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, canonizations have begun to take place in the home diocese of the newly recognized saint and the Pope has been represented in these celebrations by designated prelates.
During this pontificate, a record was made: the most numerous beatification ceremony in history, when in October 2007, 498 martyrs from the Spanish Civil War were raised to the altars.
Others beatified by this Pope include Louis and Marie-Celie Martin, parents of St. Thérèse.
Benedict XVI has canonized 28 saints, including Damien de Veuster (1840-1889), the renowned saint of the lepers who ministered in Hawaii. In October, he will canonize the fist Australian: Mother Mary MacKillop (1842-1909).
Various publications and pronouncements from this Pontiff have made history: “Anglicanorum Coetibus,” published in November 2009, opened a path for entire groups of Anglicans to enter full communion with the Church in “personal ordinariates.” A 2007 document issued “motu proprio” was another history-maker. “Summorum Pontificum” paved the way for more widespread celebration of the Mass according to the “extraordinary form,” that is, using the 1962 Roman Missal.
This Pope has visited three synagogues: in Cologne, New York and Rome. He’s also visited three mosques: in Istanbul, Amman and Jerusalem. <br>
Another unprecedented publication came just a few weeks ago: his letter to the Church in Ireland regarding the scandal of sexual abuse by clergy. This document was fruit of a meeting the Holy Father had with all active Irish prelates to examine this situation and its causes, and to discuss measures to make sure it never happens again.
Benedict XVI’s first trip outside Italy brought him to his native Germany, where he presided over World Youth Day in Cologne, which was focused on the theme of the Three Kings in Bethlehem to adore the Christ Child.
In May 2006, he traveled to Poland, praying at the Auschwitz concentration camp. “[O]ur silence becomes in turn a plea for forgiveness and reconciliation, a plea to the living God never to let this happen again,” he said in that powerful address, delivered as a “son of the German people.”
In July of that year, the Holy Father would travel to Valencia, Spain, for the World Meeting of Families, and in September of the same year, he would return to Germany.
The next December, the Pope went to Turkey, meeting with the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, and signing with him a joint declaration.
He traveled to Latin American in May 2007, inaugurating in Brazil the 5th General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean. In September, he went to Austria to mark the 850th anniversary of the foundation of the Shrine of Mariazell.
In April 2008, he visited the United States, marking the 200th anniversary of the metropolitan archdiocese of Baltimore. This trip gave him the chance for an interreligious meeting with Jewish representatives, and an ecumenical encounter with various Christian denominations of the nation. He celebrated his 81st birthday with a cake at the White House.
July of 2008 brought another World Youth Day, this time far away in Sydney, Australia, where thousands of youth gathered with the Pope to reflect on the power of the Holy Spirit.
The 150th anniversary of Mary’s apparitions in Lourdes brought the Bishop of Rome to France in September of that year.
And in March 2009, he made his first trip to the continent of Africa, presenting the “instrumentum laboris” for the synod on Africa that would be held under his direction that October.
In May of last year, the Holy Father went as a pilgrim to the Holy Land, offering a word of support for persecuted Christians in this land.
In September, he traveled to the Czech Republic, visiting the Infant of Prague and recalling the figure of St. Wenceslaus, an 8th century martyr of the region.
Finally, he returned last Sunday from his most recent trip outside Italy: to the Island of Malta, where he recalled the 1,950th anniversary of St. Paul’s shipwreck there.
“With the shipwreck, Malta was given to opportunity to have the faith,” the Pont
iff told journalists en route to the island. “In this way, we can also think about how the shipwrecks of life can be part of God’s project for us, and be useful for a new beginning in our life.”
In five years, Benedict XVI has marked the Church with the best of his human qualities: his intelligence, sensitivity, simplicity, firmness and discipline.
“The fact that the Lord knows how to work and to act even with inadequate instruments comforts me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers,” he said during that first “urbi et orbi” blessing five years ago today. “Let us move forward in the joy of the Risen Lord, confident of his unfailing help. The Lord will help us and Mary, his Most Holy Mother, will be on our side.”