More of the Song, Less of the Singer
With his hands humbly clasped in front of him, the Pope walked into the main hall as the choir sang, ''Shalom alechem,'' or ''peace be with you." After two Hebrew hymns, and the blowing of the shofar ram's horn, the son of a Holocaust survivor and then the synagogue's rabbi spoke. When it came time for Benedict to rise, his remarks wouldn't stray much from the original text. But there was something happening that went beyond words. It was in the way the Pope listened so intently to his hosts. It was the warm, two-hand embrace he shared with the young rabbi. It was in the somber cadence of his voice as he recounted Nazi atrocities, and the utter silence in the synagogue to hear his every breath. It was, in other words, in the German Pope's very presence, which was his own initiative as soon as his trip was scheduled to come to Cologne for the Catholic World Youth day. The synogogue's standing ovation for Benedict was confirmation that German Jews appreciated the gesture.John Paul was, in John Allen's words, "The Uncrowned King of Poland." When he went to Germany for the last time in '98, tomatoes were thrown at the Popemobile.
But why didn't Papa Ratzinger make even one small reference to his own experience? In a press conference later this afternoon, Karl Cardinal Lehman, the head of the German Bishops Conference, quite naturally referred to being nine years old and remembering people in his town taken away, never to return. John Paul II spoke about his own experiences every chance he could, about knowing Jews who were deported from his hometown in Poland. But perhaps Benedict, beyond a basic human shyness, also sees his role differently than his predecessor. He doesn't want to impose his own persona on the pontificate. He doesn't want his life's story to represent the Church's. He wants his words to educate as much as inspire. As a colleague who accompanied John Paul on his own first homecoming after his election, remarked yesterday: "Wojtyla was much more the Polish Pope than Ratzinger is a German Pope." John Paul was also of course a globetrotter. And perhaps after more than 20 years as a top Vatican official—and 24 hours of his first foreign trip—Benedict seems destined to be very much a Roman Pope.
Comparing Ratzinger's Germanness and Wojtyla's Polishness is like apples and oranges. How that calculus makes Ratzi a "Roman Pope" is a bit puzzling. But on the whole, Israely's is a solid take.