Welcoming the new pope

By Melissa Blake

White smoke billowed from the Sistine Chapel chimney Tuesday morning, signaling Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s future as the 265th pope.

Taking the name Pope Benedict XVI, Ratzinger, 78, refers to himself as “a simple, humble worker.”

“Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me – a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord,” Ratzinger said on the balcony of the Vatican Basilica to the cheering crowd. “I entrust myself to your prayers.”

Ratzinger was a front-runner in the selection process, said Laura Bird, director of religious education for the Newman Catholic Student Center, 512 Normal Road. His appointment was expected, she said.

“[He will] no doubt continue the priorities and missions of the late John Paul II,” she said.

Vicente Fernandez, a sophomore history major who attends services at Newman, had his eye on the Mexican archbishop to be named pope. As the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Ratzinger’s job was to announce the new pope. When he did not come out on the balcony to make the announcement, Fernandez said he sensed Ratzinger would be the new pope. Ratzinger is conservative and will stay true to the church’s doctrines, despite those who might pressure him to ease the church’s strict policies about birth control, priests getting married and women in the church, Fernandez said.

“We were sad [and] in a period of mourning [with John Paul II’s passing],” he said. “Now, we’re all filled with excitement and joy.”

Ratzinger likely will push more traditional devotion and devotion to Mary and the saints, which is very important, said the Rev. Kenneth Anderson of DeKalb’s St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 302 Fisk Ave. He also will work for a unification of the liturgy and a more solid doctrine, Anderson said.

Ratzinger will face issues such as violations of human dignity, Christian and Muslim dialogue, the gap between the rich and poor and a lack of knowledge of the faith – even among Catholics, said Newman’s Pastor Michael Black.

The fact that he was chosen so quickly shows unity within the church, Black said. He is a man of prayer and humility. He also is a man of wide experience, with the bibliography of his works running 190 pages, Black said.

“We’re happy he’s been elected,” Black said. “He’ll be an excellent pope – he’s a man of vast learning.”

At the age of 16, Ratzinger was drafted into a Nazi anti-aircraft unit and enrolled as a soldier at 18.

Black met Ratzinger in 1999 while on a trip to the Vatican. Black and his students celebrated a small mass with Ratzinger, who was “very cordial, very kind and humble,” Black said. Ratzinger also autographed a copy of his book, and Black was able to speak to him for a few minutes. The encounter was small but personal, Black said.

Ratzinger will continue John Paul II’s work, Anderson said. Ratzinger will not be as much of a traveling pope as John Paul II because of his health and his general “style of pastoral leadership,” Anderson said. John Paul II traveled to different localities to meet with people.

“[That is] how he saw life – as a pastor of the world,” Anderson said. He does not anticipate the differences between the two to be a disadvantage.

Their theology is similar, especially regarding the church as an evangelizer and its role as a teacher. Ratzinger will reflect the idea that when the church teaches, acts or ministers, it is done for the entire body of the church; Ratzinger is very leery of theology that benefits the few, Anderson said.

The Newman Center had a regular mass Tuesday during which it celebrated Ratzinger’s election, Fernandez said. No special celebrations were planned as of press time.

“We’ll just keep celebrating in regular mass,” Black said. “[We] commemorate death more than election.”

St. Mary’s Church also does not have any celebratory plans yet. It will wait and take its cue from the Rockford Diocese, Anderson said. Anderson said the church should hear something more solid in the next eight to 10 days.

Ratzinger’s appointment comes on the heels of the meeting of the 115 cardinals, who met in the conclave Monday and Tuesday. They voted three times before a two-thirds majority named Ratzinger as the new pope. The white smoke, along with the ringing of bells, signaled the new pope’s selection. Ratzinger is the first Germanic pope since the 11th Century, but Anderson does not think his nationality will make a difference.