Calling newly elected Pope Benedict XVI a “man
of profound intellectual talent and deep pastoral charity,” Bishop
Allen Vigneron encouraged Catholics in the Oakland Diocese to thank God
for giving the Church “a good shepherd.”
Shortly after Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger stepped smiling through red velvet
curtains onto the main balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, April 19,
as the new pope, Bishop Vigneron offered enthusiastic praise.
“He has made it his life’s work to witness to the truth of
the word revealed by Christ,” he said of the man who will now lead
Cardinal Ratzinger, elected the first German pope in almost five centuries,
described himself as “a simple and humble worker in the vineyard
of the Lord.”
The new pope, who turned 78 on April 16, was selected by his 114 fellow
cardinal-electors on their fourth ballot, less than 24 hours after they
opened their conclave to select a successor to Pope John Paul II, who
died April 2. At least 77 votes, a two-thirds majority, were required
Cardinal Ratzinger was one of Pope John Paul II’s closest aides
and head of the Vatican Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
A slight, white-haired figure wearing a short red cape and wine and gold
stole over his white soutane, Benedict XVI threw his arms wide and clasped
his hands above his head as he received the applause of the tens of thousands
of Romans and pilgrims who had gathered in St. Peter’s Square to
await the announcement of a new pontiff.
“Dear brothers and sisters,” he said, “after the great
Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble
worker in the vineyard of the Lord.”
The crowd warmly applauded the new pope’s greeting, but clapped
and cheered longer and louder when he evoked John Paul.
“The fact that the Lord works and acts even with insufficient instruments
consoles me and above all I trust in your prayers,” he said. “We
go forward in the joy of the risen Lord, trusting in his permanent aid.
The Lord will help us and Mary, his most holy mother, will be at our side.”
The new leader of the world’s more than 1 billion Catholics then
gave his first “urbi et orbi” blessing to the people of Rome
and the world. Popes traditionally deliver this blessing at Christmas
Then he returned to the Domus Santa Marta, where he and the other 114
cardinals attending the conclave had been sequestered.
On April 20, Benedict XVI celebrated Mass in Latin with the cardinals
in the Sistine Chapel where they had voted to elect him.
During his first homily as pope, he spoke of John Paul II. “It seems
I can feel his strong hand squeezing mine; I seem to see his smiling eyes
and listen to his words, addressed to me especially at this moment: ‘Do
not be afraid!’”
He told the cardinals that he would “pursue the commitment to enact
Vatican Council II” and proclaimed the Eucharist as “the permanent
center and the source of the petrine service entrusted to me.”
Ratzinger, a native of Bavaria, is the 265th pope and the eighth German
to hold the post. The last German pope was Adrian VI, who reigned from
1522 to 1523 and was also the last non-Italian pontiff until John Paul
II was elected in 1978.
The last pope to hold the name of Benedict was an Italian whose reign
from 1914 to 1922 encompassed World War I. Church historians have called
him one of the finest and least appreciated pontiffs.
The new pope is known for his firm stand on doctrinal orthodoxy. Celebrating
a pre-conclave Mass on April 18 in his capacity as dean of the College
of Cardinals, he denounced “a dictatorship of relativism”
and praised Catholics who have “a clear faith based on the creed
of the Church.”
In the “Declaration Dominus Iesus,” which he issued in September
2000 as prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
Ratzinger expressed “sincere respect” for other religions.
But he attacked “religious relativism which leads to the belief
that one religion is as good as another.”
“If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive
divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in
a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church,
have the fullness of the means of salvation,” the document said.
It called non-Catholic Christian bodies “defective.”
In his April 20 homily, he said his primary commitment was to the “reconstitution
of the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers.
“Concrete gestures are required,” he said, “to penetrate
souls and move consciences, encouraging everyone to that interior conversion
which is the basis for all progress on the road of ecumenism.”
In his first full day on the job, the pope met with old friends and colleagues
and visited the papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace. After the Mass,
he drove to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and had a “very
cordial meeting” with the staff of the Vatican department he headed
for nearly a quarter-century, said Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Vatican’s
Then he broke the seals that were placed on the papal apartment after
John Paul’s death April 2 and visited his old apartment just outside
the Vatican walls. Benedict had lunch with Vatican officials at the Domus
Santa Marta, where he will continue to live for the immediate future.
Rome officials were expecting some 500,000 people to converge on St. Peter’s
Square for the April 24 Mass that will formally inaugurate his pontificate.
(Catholic Voice staff contributed to this report.)
Pope Benedict XVI blesses thousands of pilgrims from a balcony of the
St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, just moments after his election
was announced to the world.