New pope hailed as great theologian; Africa says ‘don’t forget us’
By Catholic News Service
Pope Benedict XVI blesses a child as he leaves a prayer service in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.
(CNS photo from Catholic Press Photo)
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Church leaders around the world hailed Pope Benedict XVI as a standard-bearer of Catholic values and a worthy successor to Pope John Paul II.
But while many statements extolled the pope's stance in defending and promoting Church doctrine, some African Church officials expressed concern that the new pope may not accurately reflect the needs of southern Africa, where AIDS and abject poverty were devastating the region.
Bishop Louis Ndlovu of Manzini, Swaziland, former president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, last met with Pope Benedict in February to arrange the visits of southern African bishops later this year.
He said it is unlikely that southern Africa will be high on the new pope's list of priorities.
"He is a bit reserved and is not a man who loves traveling," Bishop Ndlovu said. "But you never know, he may want to follow in the steps of his predecessor."
Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa, said Pope Benedict's reputation as a hard-line traditionalist means "there will be little opportunity for openness of debate on issues, including the possible use of condoms as part of prevention strategies in the face of the AIDS pandemic."
Bishop Dowling said he fears insufficient attention will be paid to Third World countries' "huge concerns," such as poverty and structural injustice.
"We have to allow for the Holy Spirit to work and the possibility that he may change through the different experiences a pope might be exposed to," Bishop Dowling said.
The pope's views could shift if "his visits to poor countries were done in such a way that he could sit in a shack and see a young mother dying of AIDS with her baby, as I have been doing for so many years," he said.
Archbishop Raphael Ndingi Mwana'a Nzeki of Nairobi, Kenya, said he believed Pope Benedict would "continue to (be a) champion for the poor in society" and would work to fight "the raging poverty and suffering of Africans."
In Nigeria, where many believed Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze was a top papal candidate, Church officials said the election of Pope Benedict showed that the Holy Spirit was working through the cardinals in the conclave.
"His election was not influenced by any parochial considerations. Although, it would have pleased most Catholics in Nigeria if Cardinal Francis Arinze had emerged as the new pope," said Archbishop Anthony Obinna of Owerri.
Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja said, "Pope Benedict XVI has been there with the late pope, and he will toe the same line on the issues of female ordination, gay priests and the use of contraception.
"He has been against female ordination, homosexuality, use of contraceptive devices ... and there is no way he will change overnight. There is no cause for alarm. The Holy Spirit has chosen his candidate, and he is infallible," the archbishop said.
Brazilian theologian and writer Leonardo Boff, who was silenced by Pope John Paul after an investigation by the doctrinal congregation and eventually left the priesthood, said the election of Pope Benedict represents the continuation of a conservative stance by the Church.
"As a Christian I accept and respect the decision of the cardinals, but there will be much difficulty in loving this pope due to his positions in relation to the Church and the world," Boff said.
Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic of Toronto said that in electing Pope Benedict the cardinals were motivated by a desire to continue the work of Pope John Paul.
"He is unquestionably one of the best theologians we have. He is an extraordinarily clever man," Cardinal Ambrozic said.
The cardinal said that because of the nature of Pope Benedict's position as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he was not able to demonstrate other facets of his personality.
"There's a real difference between the image and the reality. The media doesn't really know the man," he said.
Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow, Scotland, called Pope Benedict "a very humble, personable man, quite different from the hard-line 'enforcer' image which is often portrayed of him."
"He is a man of great theological ability, linguistically talented, kindly of manner and of enormous pastoral and administrative experience. He was, of course, very close to Pope John Paul, knew his mind, and collaborated very closely with him. But he is his own man and will bring his own gifts to the papacy, to the Church and the world," he said.
The archbishop said Pope Benedict showed the world a different side of his personality when he celebrated Pope John Paul's April 8 funeral Mass.
"He spoke simply, directly and movingly. Many who had only known him as the great enforcer were surprised at his kindly, gentle, affectionate words that day," he said.
Maronite Bishop Bechara Rai of Jbail, Lebanon, said Pope Benedict's approval of an Arab catechism allowed the local Church to "avoid some words and expressions" to show "respect (to) the Arab sensibility."
He also said the new pope is "someone who is esteemed by theologians."
"He is of the same thinking of John Paul II, especially for the traditional vision of the Church and theology. I think his appointment is providential, because the Church needs to be in a period of calm," Bishop Rai said.
In Mexico, home to the world's second-largest Catholic population, bells rang out in Churches throughout the capital soon after the white smoke emerged from St. Peter's Basilica.
President Vicente Fox, the country's most openly Catholic leader in decades, said the new pope can count on Mexico "to stand by his side," and that he would have "a permanent, open invitation to visit our country as soon as might be possible."
In London, worshippers at Westminster Cathedral clapped when the new pope's name was announced during the daily Mass.
The cathedral bells rang, and Auxiliary Bishop George Stack of Westminster said, "I am sure you will join the Church throughout the world in praying that he is given the strength to be a true servant."
Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool, England, described Pope Benedict as "wise, profound and humble."
"I expect him to be a very different pope; it is very difficult to follow in someone's footsteps, but I am sure he will find his own path," he said.
Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, said the appointment was of "great significance to Christians everywhere."
"I look forward to meeting him and working together to build on the legacy of his predecessor," Archbishop Williams said.
Britain's Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks told the British Broadcasting Corp. that he hoped the new pope would continue to work at improving relations between Christianity and Judaism.
"As a global leader in a global age, his voice will be important in framing some of the great challenges of the 21st century," he said.

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