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from issue no. 03 - 2007

The Pope of the essential

by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran

Having the privilege of taking part in the Conclave that elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the See of Peter, I remember the thought that engrossed me while I waited in the line of cardinals to make obeisance to the new Pontiff: «A whole life, shaped by God, to reach the supreme pontificate!».
What impresses one, in this Pope, is his style: a smile and a look full of goodness, lit up by the inwardness, by the calm of a Christian aware of having accepted a mission from on high, and for which he receives the necessary graces. In Benedict XVI there is no pretension: he has asked, since the beginning of his pontificate, for the prayers of all the Christian people so that God may teach him «to love his flock ever more», and has expressed the wish that «the Lord carry us and we learn to carry each other». He is a Pope who wishes that everyone discover that Christianity is good news for the world as it is today: «Each of us is fruit of a thought of God […] each of us is beloved, each of us is necessary».
Ever more he looks like the heir of the great pope John Paul II, of whom he was the faithful and heeded adviser; like him, in the first sermon of his pontificate, he cried out: «Do not be afraid», and added: «Christ takes nothing away, and gives all».
His humility, his piety, his concern for people are rounded off by a precise vision of his mission. On 20 April 2005, a few hours after the election, in the Sistine Chapel, in his first public and solemn message, he set out in Latin the main points of his program to the cardinals who had elected him: «Fidelity to Vatican Council II; collegiality; ecumenism; dialogue with the different civilizations; service to peace; concern for young people». But some days later, on 24 April, in the mass for the solemn beginning of his Petrine ministry Benedict XVI made clear in his homily: «My true program of governance is that of not doing my own will, of not pursuing my own ideas, but of setting myself to listen, with the whole Church, to the word and will of the Lord, and letting myself be led by Him, so that it is He Himself Who leads the Church, in this hour of our history». I would say that he has been faithful to that vision.
If John Paul II gave particular importance to the image of the papacy, Benedict XVI invites all to discover, to deepen their knowledge of the reality of the Church as community of faith and charity. And he does so thanks to his personal charism of great theologian. He gives precedence to the pedagogy of the faith; he decided that the Catechism of the Catholic Church be published in a shortened version to make it accessible to a wide readership. And this, perhaps, is the fundamental point of his action: to hand on the content of the faith in all its integrity, first of all so that the baptized be willing to live their faith in truth and depth, and are at the same time capable of giving reason for the hope that is in them (cf. 1Pt 3, 15). I remember that some months after the beginning of his pontificate I was stopped in the street by a simple woman who said to me: «Father, do you know that this Pope is extraordinary? He says very deep things but we understand everything!» I think that remark sums up perfectly the way in which Benedict XVI is performing his office.
Well versed in contemporary culture, our Pope judges its frailty and contradictions and, like a father, does everything possible to provide his children with spiritual landmarks which they need; he proposes to the world of today reasons for living and for choosing. While many are prey to a frenzy of activity, of information, that are very often obstacles to the inner life, Benedict XVI helps us return to the wellspring of the faith, as he did in his first encyclical, Deus caritas est, and recently with the apostolic exhortation after the Synod on the Eucharist.
In a certain sense one can say that he is the Pope of Tradition, tradition understood not as “conserving”, but as “transmitting” (from the Latin tradere).
Saint Bernard, advising a disciple of his become pope (Eugene III), told him that the Church should live ante et retro oculata, that is with an eye to the past and an eye to the future. This is what our Pope helps us do, inviting us always to look to Christ, to be careful not to denature the great inheritance of the faith, to be men and women of the essential, so that the Church may truly be sacrament of salvation for humanity and may «make visible the big “yes” of God to mankind and to life» (IV National Conference of the Italian Church, Verona, 19 October 2006).
May God preserve him yet for a long time as head of the Church, so as to guide us all on the steep paths of our pilgrimage!

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