Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 2, 2005
It's early days for Pope Benedict XVI
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is now Pope Benedict XVI. It may take some time before we get used to calling him with that title, but one thing is sure - he has his job cut out for him.
He has the unenviable task of striking a delicate balance between what his predecessor Pope John Paul II stood for, and what the rest of the world expects of him.
As Cardinal Ratzinger, he was widely associated with the Catholic Church's conservative policies that his predecessor stood for.
As pope, he must now respond to growing concerns in religious circles and in the secular world that the Church's conservative stance on some critical issues the secular world is insisting could alienate the Church and render it irrelevant in the 21st century.
John Paul II laid the foundations of diplomacy in the Vatican by increasing the number of countries with diplomatic ties with the Vatican from 80 in 1978 when he ascended the chair of St. Peter to 174 at the time of his death on April 2.
He built inter-faith bridges by being the first Roman pontiff to visit a Jewish synagogue and a Muslim mosque.
It follows that these initiatives that saw his funeral attended by an unprecedented crowd that included sworn political enemies and religious rivals have to be enhanced by the new pope.
In another departure from tradition, John Paul II sent delegates to critical global meetings, including the International Conference on Population and Development, Cairo, Egypt, 1994 and again the Fourth UN Conference on Women - braving hostile feminist hecklers that view the Church as oppressive to women.
Pope Benedict XVI, therefore, has not only to measure up to and exceed the parameters set by his predecessor, who was a diplomat par excellence, but he also has to muster the courage to keep the tradition on some sticky issues that the world frowns upon.
Knowing the track record of the new pope, some public observers are not optimistic his position on some issues will change.
It's far too early to say what this new pope is going to be like and what changes, if any, he will introduce and implement.
The secular world will be critical of whatever this pope does because it is part of the human nature to be critical.
As he worked closely with his predecessor, it can be expected that Pope Benedict's reign will be a postlude to an era defined by John Paul's papacy.
And it's not necessarily a bad thing. It is a good thing and it is needed not only by Church but by the world as well.
As expressed by some cardinals who elected the new pope, the world and the Church need some continuity of John Paul's legacy and continuity we can expect from Benedict XVI.
Although we more or less know about Cardinal Ratzinger, we really do not know who Benedict XVI is.
No matter what happens in the papacy of this new pope, we should all remind ourselves his election is not a simple act of 115 human beings agreeing to make him pope.
As a Church we believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the cardinals who chose him. And chosen he was for a mission we can jubilantly expect to begin unfolding.
As he begins his journey as the Benedict XVI, we are also beginning a new journey. This one needs continuous, incessant and collective prayer from all of us.
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