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January 15, 2006     533 Words

Pope Benedict XVI: ‘A Service to Joy’

CINCINNATI—On April 19 of 2005, Catholics worldwide met their new pope when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger walked to the edge of the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Reaction was mixed among the thousands in the crowd that day: Many cheered in delight, others were less exuberant and some were simply unhappy. Almost a year into his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI has surprised many Catholics and members of other religions.

The life of the pope, as well as an analysis of his first six months as pastor to the world’s Catholics, is the basis for St. Anthony Messenger’s February cover story, “The Emerging Reign of Pope Benedict XVI: ‘A Service to Joy.’” Author Robert Mickens, who lived in Rome and who now writes about the Vatican for The Tablet of London, delves into Benedict’s humble childhood, his early career and the road that led him to the papacy. After January 23, the article will be posted at: AmericanCatholic.org.

Many Catholics feared the worst when Ratzinger was elected pope because, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he earned the nickname “God’s Rottweiler.” He proved to be a fierce and conservative defender of the Church and its laws. Yet nearly a year into his papacy, Benedict has shown himself to be a patient and understanding listener and more gracious than his detractors predicted. “At this moment, weak servant of God that I am, I must assume this enormous task. How will I be able to do it?” the pope asked on April 24 at his installation Mass in St. Peter’s Square.

Enormous indeed: Pope Benedict inherits a Church that faces many internal problems, such as a dwindling number of priests, a lack of understanding of Church teaching, catechetical illiteracy and polarization among believers. Curing the ills of an ailing Church will not be easy for the 78-year-old theologian.

The road ahead for the pope is unclear, yet a few outcomes are almost assured. There will be fewer papal documents under his leadership. He will also have a more open relationship with the world’s bishops, something many of them have said they want. And Benedict will likely guide the Church with positive reinforcement, a policy he has utilized over the last several months.

Pope Benedict is full of surprises: Few people would have predicted that by the end of September he would have had extended meetings with people on opposite sides of the theological spectrum: Hans Küng, his former teaching colleague, and with the head of the Society of St. Pius X, a schismatic Catholic group.

Giving further evidence of his humanity and spirituality, in October, Pope Benedict met with a group of young children on the day of their First Communion. “I hope that for all of you,” he said, “the First Communion you have received in this Year of the Eucharist will be the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Jesus, the beginning of a journey together, because in walking with Jesus we do well and life becomes good.”

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