Benedict XVI, Europe and tone of Papacy

All leaders, when elected to power, make it a point to emphasise the style and the tone of their mission and their holistic vision.

Pope Benedict XVI lost no time to make clear to the whole world, and especially to Europeans, the style of his papacy, and his assessment of Christianity in today's world. In fact, the Holy Father emphasised that the indispensable need for Europe is to return steadily to fundamental Christian values in response to the rapidly increasing de-Christianisation and secularisation in developed countries.

In his memorable address at the beginning of the papal conclave, on April 18, 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger, as Dean of the College of Cardinals, stressed that relativism's denial of objective truth - and especially the denial of moral truths - was the central problem of the 21st century.

Since his election as Pontiff the next day, Benedict XVI has reaffirmed the "importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable work". In his fatherly appeals, the Holy Father has been exhorting priests and laity to pray more and to pray better.

While Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger repeatedly stated he would like to retire to his home village of Pentling, in Bavaria, and dedicate himself to writing books. But the ways of the Lord are not our ways. On April 19, 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger was elected to the See of Peter, on the second day of the papal conclave - after four ballots - and his wish to retire peacefully in Bavaria vanished. In his typical fidelity to the Lord, he said: "At a certain point I prayed to God 'please don't do this to me'. Evidently, this time He didn't listen to me".

Worthy of special mention is the article of Piers Paul Read in The Spectator (UK) on March 5, 2005: "There can be little doubt that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's courageous promotion of orthodox Catholic teaching has earned him the respect of his fellow cardinals throughout the world. He is patently holy, highly intelligent and sees clearly what is at stake. Indeed, for those who blame the decline of Catholic practice in the developed world precisely on the propensity of many European bishops to hide their heads in the sand, a Pope who confronts it may be just what is required."

Indeed, Pope Benedict has also given tone and tune to his papacy right from the start. During his inaugural Mass (April 24) the custom whereby every cardinal submitted himself to the Pope was replaced by having 12 people greet him, including cardinals, clergy, religious, a married couple and their child, and newly confirmed people. (The cardinals had formally sworn their obedience upon his election). He has also begun using an open-topped papal car, saying that he wanted to be closer to the people.

Pope Benedict has continued the tradition of his predecessor, John Paul II, and baptises several infants in the Sistine Chapel at the beginning of every year, in his pastoral role as Bishop of Rome.

Perhaps few are those who noted that in his coat of arms, Benedict has omitted the papal tiara, which traditionally appears in the background to designate the Pope's position as a worldly ruler like a king; he replaced it with a simple mitre, emphasising his spiritual authority.

Although some papal documents since his inauguration appear to include the papal tiara, this is because the arms of the Holy See itself (as opposed to his personal arms) continue to use the tiara and crossed keys, as can be observed, for example, on the Website of the Holy See and other official publications.

Pope Benedict has also included a traditional pallium beneath his shield as a background element for his arms, emphasising his pastoral powers.

Unlike his predecessor, John Paul II, Benedict XVI delegated beatification liturgical services to a cardinal. On September 29, 2005, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints announced that henceforth beatification would be celebrated by a representative of the Pope, usually the Prefect of that Congregation.

The Pope will take care of canonisation. In fact, it was Benedict XVI who on June 3 this year presided over the canonisation of the first Maltese saint, Dun Gorg Preca, founder of the MUSEUM.

A very important theme of Benedict XVI's homilies and speeches is "friendship with Jesus Christ". A most important speech was to the priests of Rome, his Episcopal diocese, to the cardinals during the papal conclave, and to an audience of 150,000 people, among whom were children receiving their First Communion: "We are all called to open ourselves to this friendship with God... speaking to him as to a friend, the only One who can make the world both good and happy. What we have to do is put ourselves at His disposal. This is a message that helps to overcome what can be considered the great temptation of our time: the claim that after the Big Bang, God withdrew from history".


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