ROME (CNS) -- Although Pope Benedict XVI will seek to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, he will bring his own charism and contribution to the Church, said a group of U.S. cardinals who took part in the election of the German pope.
"This pontificate is totally new, the pope has chosen a new name, but at the same time he has indicated a real desire to be in continuity" with the legacy of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XV, said Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia.
The cardinal said the new pope is dedicated to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and interested in collegiality or how the local bishops share responsibility and decision-making with the pope and the Roman Curia.
Pope Benedict will approach these issues in "his own way, but in faithful collegiality to John Paul II and Benedict XV," Cardinal Rigali said in an April 20 press conference at the North American College.
Cardinal Adam J. Maida of Detroit said the new pope will be "his own man" and "a spiritual guide."
"God will use him as an instrument of grace," he said.
"God has picked the most unusual people and put them in places of authority. Even with (the pope's) gifts, talents and shortcomings," ultimately "it will be the grace of God" that leads the Church, Cardinal Maida said.
The U.S. cardinals, who spoke to reporters April 19 and 20 in Rome, agreed that Pope Benedict is a warm, humble man who will reach out to people around the world.
"He's a very loving, lovely person, very unassuming, and shortly you will see this," Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York said April 19 following the election.
Asked by a reporter how the new pope might fare with U.S. Catholics given his sometimes negative portrayal in the press, Cardinal Egan said: "I think he'll play very well as soon as people get to know him. You need to be slow in making judgments. Sometimes it's good to watch for a while and see if what you've heard is true."
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles said one must be careful not to make judgments about a person based on "labels" and "caricatures."
People "will have to get to know this man as we know him," he said April 20 at the press conference.
The previous evening, Cardinal Mahony told Catholic News Service that people who think they know the new pope from having read about his defense of Church teaching and his disciplining of theologians do not know Pope Benedict.
"Much of the baggage that goes with anyone who is given a responsibility is hard to overcome," the cardinal said. "But his job was preserving the doctrine of the Church against dilution or errors. That was his job; that is what Pope John Paul II asked him to do, but that is not his job now.
"I think you will see emerge his far more spiritual and pastoral sides," Cardinal Mahony said.
"I have seen him in those roles, and I think people will be very, very surprised in a good sense," he said. "He is a very pastoral man and deeply spiritual."
Cardinal Egan said one memory in particular of Pope Benedict illustrated his character. After working at the Roman Rota and teaching at Rome's North American College, then-Father Egan was named a bishop and called back to the United States. The new pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, called him to his office so he could say goodbye in person, a human touch that should allay criticism, said Cardinal Egan.
Addressing a question about the new pope's lack of pastoral experience -- he was elected after 24 years as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- Cardinal Rigali pointed to the new pope's 1977-82 tenure as archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany.
"It was precisely because he had been a pastor, precisely because he had been involved with the people," that Pope John Paul II "chose him in 1981 in order to come to Rome and be ... in the service of the universal Church," Cardinal Rigali said.
He portrayed Pope Benedict as unassuming and told reporters that the new pontiff remembered his birthday April 19.
"With all the things he had to think about, I was very grateful," Cardinal Rigali said.
Cardinals Rigali and Egan praised Pope Benedict for his theological sophistication and ability to speak several languages. The new pope speaks German, English, Italian, French and Spanish, they said, adding that they had heard he also speaks Portuguese.
Cardinal Rigali said the pope's interest in languages showed a "desire to reach out to people. The reason he wants to speak languages is because he's interested in the people who speak those languages."
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington said April 20 he felt Cardinal Ratzinger was the right man to be elected pope because "he had a sense of the Church at this time after the long pontificate of John Paul II as we move into other challenges."
Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago added, "It was a choice that was almost clear from the very beginning."
After the papal election, each cardinal approached Pope Benedict individually, and the new pontiff invited all the cardinals to dinner at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where cardinals stayed during the conclave.
"He was very relaxed, very serene and very joyful," said Cardinal Rigali, adding that the pope did not make a speech at the impromptu dinner.
Cardinal George recalled that on the evening Pope John Paul was elected pope, he was joined by the other Polish cardinals in singing some Polish folk songs.
This time at the dinner after Pope Benedict's election, "we sang a couple of songs in Latin. There were no folk songs," he said.
Afterward, Cardinal Rigali said, "some of the cardinals were telling (the new pope) to get a good night's rest."
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Contributing to this story were Benedicta Cipolla and Cindy Wooden.
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