VARIOUS/FILE: One year on, Pope Benedict said to confound critics with gentle side
- Title: VARIOUS/FILE: One year on, Pope Benedict said to confound critics with gentle side
- Date: 19th April 2006
- Summary: (BN09) VATICAN CITY (APRIL 19, 2005) (REUTERS) CLOSE OF CROWDS CHEERING
- Reuters ID: LVAEJMXOP6DWSLAP2USHYGEMMAGU
- Duration: 00:00:07
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- Topics: People,Religion
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- Story Text: On April 19, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger appeared on the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square as successor to John Paul II. He took the name Benedict XVI.
"Pray for me", he told tens of thousands cheering in and around St. Peter's Square during his inauguration mass several days later.
But amid the cheers and joyous applause, there were serious concerns in certain quarters as to the real nature of the man and his possible influence on the future development of the Catholic Church.
Before his election, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had been known by such critical epithets as "God's Rottweiler". As the Vatican's chief doctrinal enforcer for nearly a quarter of a century, he had a reputation for intransigence and conservatism.
One year on, however, Pope Benedict has shown the world an apparent gentle side.
Hans Kueng, the liberal Swiss theologian whose harsh criticism of Ratzinger's doctrinal office contributed to his reputation as a Grand Inquisitor, has been among those pleasantly surprised at the new pope's style, saying he has proved surprisingly inspiring and understanding.
After appearing uncomfortable in the limelight at the start, the Pope, 79, has shown that he is now at home with his new job.
His first overseas trip took him to Germany, a visit originally scheduled for John Paul II, where he addressed World Youth Day. On a boat trip down the Rhine on his first afternoon, he smiled and waved at the thousands gathered along the banks and over the next few days led tens of thousands at vigils just outside the city.
Many Papal commentators, however, noted significantly smaller crowds than those for John Paul II and a lack of real atmosphere.
Others say he has shown that he intends to be pope in his way. Despite great reverence for his charismatic, globetrotting predecessor -- whom he has put of the fast track to sainthood -- he will not change his quiet manners to imitate John Paul's style.
Some had criticised John Paul for perhaps being too preoccupied with the problems of the world and not enough with the problems of the Church as an institution.
So, many had expected Benedict to make sweeping changes to the Curia, the Vatican's central and staid administration. But he has made only a few significant changes so far.
His appointment of former San Francisco archbishop William Levada to succeed him as chief doctrinal enforcer surprised some conservatives who felt he should have taken a tougher line toward the city's large gay community.
In another move, he sent Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, the Vatican's leading expert on Islam, to be the Vatican's envoy to the Arab League in Cairo and put his department under the wing of the Church's culture minister, Cardinal Paul Poupard.
Many suggest he has been simply exercising caution in his first year, however, and could implement new reforms in the next year.
Benedict has held out surprise olive branches to leading liberals and traditionalists, meeting with Kueng, who has remained a priest despite being banned from teaching Catholic theology, as well as the head of an ultra traditionalist group.
Both were gestures that Pope John Paul never made, even when he was in good health.
On the ecumenical front, Benedict has pushed hard for improvement in relations with Orthodox churches, which split from Rome in the Great Schism of 1054.
He met the then Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in December.
He has also made it clear he is committed to continued good relations with Jews. He has met several Jewish delegations, including a group of rabbis last September. He already has strongly denounced the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews in the Holocaust and will visit the death camp at Auschwitz during a trip to Poland next month.
With the printing of stamps and cards, Benedict is slowly taking shape as Pope as his role changes from one of teaching and censorship to spreading the Christian message in the Church and in the world.
In January he published his first enycyclical, or letter to the whole Catholic church, devoted to the meaning of love and charity.
In Easter ceremonies, he led the traditional Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession around the ruins of Rome's ancient Colosseum commemorating Christ's passion and death.
Wearing a red cape over this white cassock, he carried a wooden cross for part of the service around the Colosseum as tens of thousands of people held candles on the streets below.
It was very different last year, when Pope John Paul, who was in his final days, was only able to make brief appearances in the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. Too frail to walk, he blessed crowds with a wave and watched the Via Crucis from his room in the Vatican.
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- Embargoed:4th May 2006 13:00