Tuesday, April 19, 2005

on Benedict

By and large the folks here at the seminary greeted the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI with great hopes. When the students here turned on the TV set just after 9am and saw the white smoke billowing from the chimney, excitement showed on the faces of everyone. And then, when the name "Josephum" was uttered by the cardinal deacon who made the announcement from the balcony, I said to the fellow seminarian next to me, "Oh, it's Ratzinger!"

I must say the cardinals made a bold and courageous decision in electing Benedict. There was a great temptation for them, I should think, to elect someone just like John Paul: photogenic, an energetic globetrotter, bubbling with his own kind of charisma, and perhaps someone younger, as John Paul was when he was elected. They could have picked a cipher, a person of no consequence, who could just be a lesser version of the dynamic John Paul. The sight of that 4 million people in Rome for John Paul's funeral could have swayed the cardinals to just go in that direction.

To their credit the cardinals didn't do that. They picked a man who is his own person. Here is a man whose intellect is brilliant. If John Paul was an intellectual, Benedict is an even greater intellectual. No, he's not from the Third World, and no he doesn't have an actor's goodlooks. But you know, the Church will continue to flourish in the Third World whoever is on Peter's throne. Western Europe however, from where Benedict comes, is in desperate need of someone of their own who can make accessible to them and who can translate for them the rich doctrines of the Church so that the relevance of these doctrines can be seen more readily. Benedict, who is in tune with the moral problems in Western Europe, can do this. And no, he may not have the telegenic attractiveness of John Paul. But hey, what a wonderful antidote Benedict is to our society's unabashed cult of celebrity and glamour.

The office of pope is not about how photogenic or dynamically buoyant the occupant is. It's about being the custodian of the Church's rich deposit of faith and it's about shepherding the flock to the truth. Benedict can do this.

And personally I reject the "labels" thrown by the folks in the media, and which even Catholics have adopted, branding this cleric "conservative" or that cleric "liberal" or "progressive." These labels are artificial. For instance, what some people call "conservative" can mean fidelity to the revealed truth handed down by Christ to the disciples who in turn have entrusted these to their successors, the bishops. So when I read these silly labels thrown at clerics and other members of the people of God, I reject them outright.

So, I have nothing but hope and good wishes for Benedict as he begins his pontificate, whether it be long or short. We have a new pope; may God bless him and the Church.

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