VATICAN CITY Proclaiming himself Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, the German known for relentlessly guarding the church against all doctrinal deviation, gave his first papal blessing to cheering throngs that had filled St. Peter s Square yesterday as white smoke and bells announced the election of him as the Pope.
Pope Benedict, the first German pope in centuries, emerged after one of the fastest papal conclaves in the century onto the balcony of St. Peter s Basilica. Standing above a tapestry that bore the coat of arms of his predecessor, he waved to a wildly cheering crowd of tens of thousands and said: 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.
The new Pope, whose voice sounded far stronger and more clear than it had on Monday, asked for the prayers of the people, saying he was insufficient to fill this office without them.
Viva Il Papa! the crowd shouted and raised rosaries aloft for his blessing. Benedetto! the crowd sang and punctuated the name of the 265th pope with rhythmic applause.
But some in St. Peter s Square, who had cheered wildly when white smoke and ringing bells signaled that the 115 cardinals had chosen a new leader, became more subdued when
Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez announced the choice as Cardinal Ratzinger. One group of Irish priests who had been laughing and celebrating earlier in hope of a Latin American to emphasize justice for the poor became subdued and silent when they heard the Latin first name Joseph.
Not so the large numbers of youths who had loved John Paul II and who saw Cardinal Ratzinger as his close friend. World Youth Day, which had done so much to renew their faith, is scheduled for this summer in Cologne, Germany. Any doubt that the Pope would attend was alleviated by the fact that it was in his home country.
Other cardinals lined the balconies to Pope Benedict s left and right. But aging American Cardinal William Baum, the only elector other than Cardinal Ratzinger to have voted in the conclave that chose Pope John Paul II, stood with him on the center loggia. The gesture to the ailing former archbishop of Washington and longtime Vatican official impressed even Cardinal Ratzinger s critics with its thoughtfulness.
Cardinal Ratzinger turned 78 on Saturday. His age clearly was a factor among cardinals who favored a transitional Pope who could skillfully lead the church as it absorbs Pope John Paul II s legacy, rather than a younger cardinal who could wind up with another long pontificate.
Before the announcements, the tension in the square was palpable.
The election was on the fourth ballot of the conclave, the first of the afternoon. Smoke began to pour from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel at 5:50 p.m. Rome time, more than an hour before the time when onlookers had expected the cardinals afternoon session to end. It appeared white, and the crowd began to cheer. But because of past confusion about smoke color, Vatican officials had promised to ring the great bell of St. Peter and that didn t happen immediately.
The bell isn t swinging, said the Rev. Jim Farnan, a Pittsburgh priest whom Cardinal Ratzinger ordained a deacon in 1999. Father Farnan refrained from joining the cheers until an election was certain.
An older American priest who was present for the last election explained that it takes time to deliver the message to the people who ring the bells.
Those tuned to Vatican Radio said the station was not confirming it, and further confusion was added when the Angelus bells began their regular 6 p.m. chime.
The first certain sign other than the billowing white smoke was that Swiss Guards dressed in contemporary blue suit uniforms began to gather on the front steps of St. Peter s. Finally, at 6:04 p.m., the enormous bell in St. Peter s began its first slow movement, working up to a resounding peal, and was joined by smaller bells that seemed almost to dance around it in the bell tower.
The bell is swinging! Father Farnan shouted as the crowd sent up a deafening cheer. A group of young nuns who had been singing earlier in the square waved their blue scapulars above their heads and cheered.
The Holy Spirit did his job. God bless us, Father Farnan said as, much to his surprise, his eyes welled with tears.
The crowd continued to cheer, and white smoke continued to pour from the chimney. Flags of every country from Poland to South Korea waved. One group of Poles carried a banner that said in Latin, Poland Always Faithful.
All eyes were turned to the central balcony above the main entrance to St. Peter s, where the glass door was draped in curtains of deep burgundy. People wept, and others trembled. A light rain fell, but almost no one raised an umbrella for fear of blocking the view.
They watched the staff from the secretary of state s office assemble on its balcony overlooking the square.
Finally, at 6:20, the bells began to slow in anticipation of the announcement. At 6:40, with the bells now silent, the doors opened.
The crowd erupted in cheers that were stifled by a great shushing sound when three figures emerged. Cardinal Estevez s first words of greeting were not in Latin, as expected, but in Italian, then Spanish, leading to whispers of it s a Latin American!
He continued, saying, Dear Brothers and Sisters in several languages, including English, before uttering the famous Latin words, Habemus Papam! His voice was crystal clear in the vast square as he uttered the long, Latin formula for Cardinal Ratzinger s name.
Unbelievable, Father Farnan said.
I m excited. I m excited for the church, and to be here at this historic moment gives me great hope for my church, he said.
I think people expect him to be authoritarian, but I don t think he necessarily is. He has such a gifted mind and such an intellect that it overshadows his great heart.
I think people will be very surprised that Benedict XVI is not the man they think they know, Father Farnan said. They will discover that he is compassionate, humble, loving, and has tremendous affection for the poor. He is a man who, when he was doing my ordination, preached obedience and was himself obedient to the 21-year-old master of ceremonies. That was the biggest impression he made on me, Father Farnan said.
Cardinal Ratzinger as a theologian was speculative; Cardinal Ratzinger as the Vatican official charged with guarding church doctrine was vigilant. As the pastor to the world, he will be a good shepherd, Father Farnan said.
It s not a disappointment. He s not really understood.
David Gibson, author of The Coming Catholic Church, was not so certain but allowed that Cardinal Ratzinger s spirituality could reveal new dimensions to his character in this new office. But Cardinal Ratzinger is unlikely to bring any of the reform of the Vatican bureaucracy that had seemed so important to so many bishops before the conclave, Mr. Gibson said.
Judging by his long track record as a cardinal and as the Pope s right-hand man, the prospects for reform would seem dim. I think a lot of American Catholics are obviously going to view him as Cardinal Ratzinger rather than as Pope Benedict, Mr. Gibson said.
I think his election will rally the orthodox Catholics. It will cause a lot of moderates who were holding their fire during the last years of John Paul to speak out. But I think it will also cause a lot of Catholics to either drift away from the church or to focus on their parish, develop a more congregational style of Catholicism.
However, Mr. Gibson said, He is a very holy man, and it will be interesting to see him transform that personal holiness into the leadership of 1.1 billion Catholics. He s been the bad guy for 25 years. Can he be the good guy?
Caroline Weinstein, 21, was in Rome with a study-abroad program of the University of California. Being in the square for the election was electrifying, said Ms. Weinstein, who is Catholic.
I m happy with him. I m sure he will do a phenomenal job, she said.
He is conservative, but who are those standards set by? The church has to uphold the truth.
Pope Benedict XVI will preside over a Mass today in the Sistine Chapel and will be formally installed Sunday.
This report includes information from the Associated Press.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Ann Rodgers is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.
Contact Ann Rodgers at:firstname.lastname@example.org.