London Speaks... A Day Early
[H]is closeness to his predecessor – undoubtedly one of the reasons he was elected – has not tempted him into imitation. Indeed, Benedict’s modest and understated public style might almost be seen as a deliberate repudiation of the personality cult that was increasingly associated with Pope John Paul II. But he has not repudiated the inter-religious agenda of the previous papacy: if anything, his historic visit to a synagogue and sympathetic if forthright address to Muslim leaders, as well as his openness and optimism when speaking to leaders of other Churches, belie many of the fears that were expressed at the time of his election. On the contrary, he could more easily be accused of raising false hopes. Nor has he launched his pontificate into a crusade against sexual immorality, as some might have hoped or feared.
He has grasped one essential truth about his Polish predecessor: that under the intense media spotlight, the personal spirituality of the occupant of the See of Rome is crucial. It becomes a public demonstration of how to be a Christian. And that model is not served if the office is immersed in endless controversy and confrontation, for that is not the essence of Christ’s example. Pope Benedict has given the Church a valuable lesson in how to talk to – or more accurately, with – Jews and Muslims. He did so as their equal, without a hint of papal triumphalism. He has also signalled something fresh about how to talk to, and with, the next generation. The occasion of his visit was the latest in the series of World Youth Days inaugurated by John Paul II, which saw the emergence of a direct relationship of mutual affection and respect between the head of the Catholic Church and some of its youngest members. What he has injected into that relationship is a new pastoral tone. He wanted to tell them that the Catholic faith could, if they let it, answer their deepest needs.
On the news side, the eminent Robert Mickens and Michael Hirst offer this sterling take:
[A]s for the banner waved by one enthusiastic youngster in the City on the Rhine, which read, “Joseph like Karol”, well, not exactly. In fact, the 78-year-old Papa Ratzinger confessed that he would never have dared to make his native country the venue for his very first papal journey if he had not inherited the pre-scheduled appointment. He came to Germany for an event that was carefully scripted, as it were, for another man. World Youth Day (WYD) was a tailor-made “invention” of the Herculean John Paul II and now the bookish and shy Benedict XVI was suddenly – by Providence, he said – thrust, as understudy, into his predecessor’s limelight....
The Pope did not do or say anything “wrong”. And in spite of his lament that “the influence of Catholic ethics and morals is in constant decline” and that “many people abandon the Church or … accept only a part of Catholic teaching”, he never once mentioned abortion, birth control, or sex – all burning issues for the so-called “theo-cons” and hard-line dogmatists who were elated by his election to the papacy. And in a homily for seminarians he never even whispered the word “celibacy”. Was this really Pope Benedict? Or did he lose those pages?
Do yourself a favor and read these in full. It's the World's Best Catholic Paper at its Ichiban finest.