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Benedict XVI Lays Out His Vision for Church

Wednesday, 20 April 2005 12:00 AM

The new pope said he wanted to continue "an open and sincere dialogue" with other religions and would do everything in his power to improve the ecumenical cause.

The message was clearly designed to show that Benedict was intent on following many of the groundbreaking paths charted by John Paul, who had made reaching out to other religions and trying to heal the 1,000-year-old schism in Christianity a hallmark of his pontificate.

Joy over the selection of a new pope was mixed with worries that Benedict could polarize a global church, whose challenges include growing secularism in rich countries and inroads by evangelical groups in regions such as Latin America.

Benedict referred to his predecessor several times in his message, including John Paul's final wishes that he hoped new generations would draw on the work of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meeting that modernized the church.

"I too ... want to affirm with decisive willingness to follow in the commitment of carrying out the Second Vatican Council, in the wake of my predecessors and in faithful continuity with the 2,000-year-old tradition of the church," Benedict said.

John Paul supported council reforms but cracked down on what both men considered excesses spawned by the changes, including calls for priests to be allowed to marry and admission of women into the priesthood.

The hard-line enforcer of church orthodoxy under John Paul for almost 25 years, Benedict had gone into the two-day conclave as a favorite. He was elected Tuesday as the oldest pontiff in 275 years and the first Germanic pope in almost a millennium.

A cheering crowd of more than 100,000 welcomed Benedict when he stepped onto the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica as dusk fell Tuesday and gave his first blessing as pope. By contrast, St. Peter's Square was nearly empty early Wednesday, although by the end of the Mass a few hundred had gathered to watch on giant TV screens.

"We greet our Pope Benedict XVI," read a poster toted by teens from a high school in Handrup, Germany, who were in the square when his black Mercedes convertible, its top up and Vatican flags flying, zipped into and out of his former offices at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Later, Benedict broke the seals of the papal apartment - shuttered after John Paul died April 2 - and greeted colleagues and signed papers at his desk. He decided to continue staying at the Vatican hotel where he has been sequestered since the conclave began, spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said. He did not say when Benedict would move into the papal apartments.

He ate lunch Wednesday with colleagues and said he would meet Friday with cardinals and hold a news conference Sunday, Navarro-Valls said. His inauguration ceremony on Sunday would be followed on Monday by an audience with official delegations on Monday, the spokesman added.

Ratzinger selected a name rich in European tradition - the first Pope Benedict, who ruled from 575-579, was declared the patron saint of Europe because of his involvement in forming Christian Europe. Vatican watchers said Ratzinger's selection of the name indicated he would emphasize the need to consolidate Europe's Christian roots.

Amid the joy, there also was disappointment Wednesday from some who viewed him as an obstacle to necessary change in the church.

"This election creates as much hope as fear," said Belgium's Deputy Prime Minister Laurette Onkelinx, who is responsible for government relations with religious communities.

"The fear is because of the past of the new pope - great defender of religious doctrine and a great conservative. One can fear he will not respond to the need for openness of the church," she said in an interview with Le Soir newspaper, insisting she was speaking in a personal capacity.

But American cardinals said Benedict had been unfairly caricatured as an unfeeling conservative, describing him instead as a caring, brilliant churchman who listens to those with opposing views.

"I think he'll play well as soon as people come to know him," said New York Cardinal Edward Egan. "This is a very unprepossessing, humble, and if I may say, lovely gentleman."

The pope's participation in the Nazi Party as a youth rang alarms in Israel. "White smoke, black past," said the headline in the mass circulation Yediot Ahronot. "From the Nazi youth movement to the Vatican."

The young Ratzinger, like all other teens, was enrolled in Hitler Youth, and was later drafted into the army.

"He was 18 years old when the war ended so everything that he had to do with the Nazi regime was as a very young man," said Moshe Zimmerman, a professor of German history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, he said. "I don't believe that there is any room for doubt that (the pope) of today is very different than the days he belonged in the Hitler Youth."

Jewish leaders said they were encouraged by his special interest in coexistence.

"I hope that the new pope will continue the same way and he will continue to build the same bridge as the last pope built in the past between the two nations, between the Christians and the Jewish nation," said Israel's chief rabbi, Yona Metzger.

But the Greek Metropolitan Bishop, Chrisostomos of Zakynthos, expressed concern Wednesday that Benedict may not work to unite Christians. Unless his record changes, he said, "it will be a huge thorn, a great difficulty in continuing the efforts of his predecessors with the Orthodox for convergence, as was the will of Christ."

Muslims welcomed Benedict, hoping he will promote harmony between the two religions, while Islamic conservatives found common cause with the new pontiff's hard-line cultural stances. There were widespread hopes that Benedict will follow in the path of John Paul in reaching out to the Islamic world - and few expressed concern over the reservations that Ratzinger showed in the past about dialogue with other religions.

Benedict said he had been surprised by his election, and German Cardinal Joachim Meisner said Tuesday he had looked "a little forlorn" when he went to change into his papal vestments in the Room of Tears - so nicknamed because many new pontiffs get choked up there, realizing the enormity of their mission.

Meisner added: "By the time dinner came around, Ratzinger was looking much better and very much like the pope."

Benedict asked cardinals to dine together on bean soup, cold cuts, a salad and fruit, Meisner said. The nuns who prepare their meals at the Vatican hotel where the cardinals were sequestered during the conclave didn't have time to plan a special menu, so there were only two special treats - ice cream and champagne.

In his first words as pope delivered from the loggia overlooking the square, Benedict paid tribute in accented Italian to "the great John Paul II." He called himself "a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord."

It was a sign of John Paul's charismatic legacy looming over the new pontiff, who is described by people who know him as intellectual, cultured and rather reserved.

Benedict said Wednesday he felt John Paul's presence as he wrestled with two conflicting emotions following the election: thanks to God for the gift of being pope but also "a sense of inadequacy" in carrying out the responsibility.

"I seem to feel his strong hand holding mine, I feel I can see his smiling eyes and hear his words, at this moment particularly directed at me: 'Be not afraid."'

Benedict, who turned 78 on Saturday, is the oldest pope elected since Clement XII in 1730. His age clearly was a factor among cardinals who favored a "transitional" pope who could skillfully lead the church as it absorbs John Paul's legacy, rather than a younger cardinal who could wind up with another long pontificate.

His election in four ballots over two days concluded one of the shortest conclaves in 100 years.

A conservative on issues such as homosexuality, the ordination of women and lifting the celibacy requirement for priests, Benedict has led the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - a position he used to discipline church dissidents and uphold church policy against attempts at reform by liberals and activist priests.

"God has taken the most unusual people and placed them in places of authority, power if you will, and used them for his purposes," said American Cardinal Adam Maida. "So I believe that Cardinal Ratzinger, with all his gifts and talents and even some of his shortcomings, will somehow be able to reach others."

British Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor suggested Ratzinger might temper some of his positions, at least publicly, because of the office he now holds.

"The pope now has a platform and a place he didn't have before. Now he has much wider responsibilities, and I think he's aware of that," Murphy-O'Connor said, adding that Ratzinger was elected "notwithstanding his age."

Benedict inherits a range of pressing issues. These include priest sex-abuse scandals that have cost the church millions of dollars in settlements in the United States and elsewhere, chronic shortages of priests and nuns in the West, and calls for easing the ban on condoms to help fight the spread of AIDS.

And he has to follow in the footsteps of John Paul, the global pontiff who made 104 international trips in his more than 26 years as pope and set new standards in reaching out to other religions.

"He could be a wedge rather than a unifier for the church," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit weekly magazine America.

Benedict said Wednesday he planned to attend the church's World Youth Day celebrations in Cologne, Germany, in August.

Two images of Ratzinger have emerged in recent days.

With his wispy silver hair blowing in the wind, the German prelate stood before the world's political and spiritual leaders at John Paul's funeral April 8 and offered an eloquent and sensitive farewell that moved some to tears.

Then, just before the cardinals began the conclave Monday, he made clear where he stands ideologically, warning against sects and ideologies such as Marxism, liberalism, atheism, agnosticism and relativism - the ideology that there are no absolute truths.

"We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires," he said.

He has denounced rock music, dismissed anyone who had tried to find "feminist" meanings in the Bible, and last year told American bishops it was appropriate to deny Communion to those who support abortion and euthanasia.

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The new pope said he wanted to continue "an open and sincere dialogue" with other religions and would do everything in his power to improve the ecumenical cause. The message was clearly designed to show that Benedict was intent on following many of the groundbreaking...
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Wednesday, 20 April 2005 12:00 AM
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