Europe Religious Apathy May Challenge Pope
Apr 20, 3:53 PM (ET)
By VICTOR L. SIMPSON
VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI's first challenge is at his doorstep: a Europe of empty churches and religious apathy that has spurned Vatican attempts for it to recognize the continent's Christian heritage.
While serious issues also await the new pontiff in Latin America and elsewhere, Roman Catholicism's cardinals selected a German pope to tackle a European problem.
Pope John Paul II was also a European, but he concentrated his efforts on battling communism in his native Poland and elsewhere in the Soviet bloc. One of his biggest disappointments was that those same countries began to adopt secular, Western lifestyles once Marxist rule collapsed.
"He's quite worried about Germany, I know, his own country," American Cardinal Avery Dulles said Wednesday in listing the concerns of the new pope. "But the whole of (the) Western European situation is dismal from his point of view."
"I think he will see the need for a new evangelization," said the 86-year-old Dulles, who was too old to participate in the conclave that chose Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as pope.
Ratzinger's choice of Benedict as his papal name may be an indication of how he intends to point his pontificate.
St. Benedict of Nursia, a monk during the 5th and 6th centuries, just after the fall of the Roman Empire, drew up the rules for monastic life. The Benedictine order that followed his teachings became the main guardian of learning and literature in Western Europe during the dark centuries that followed. In the 1960s, Pope Paul VI named Benedict patron saint of Europe.
John Paul made many European pilgrimages, drawing huge crowds in countries such as Spain and France but failing to draw Catholics back into churches or halting a decline in the number of new priests. Even in Italy, the home of the Vatican where Catholic traditions still run deep, a church-backed referendum failed to overturn a liberal abortion law during John Paul's papacy.
"Nobody is better informed than Pope Benedict on the European scene and the secularism of Europe and what might be the way in which the church lives with secularism," British Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor said Wednesday.
"I think all of us who are European bishops, European cardinals, are concerned about this question," he said.
During John Paul's 26-year papacy, the Vatican fought several battles on the European front but without much success.
In particular, the European Union rejected Vatican demands that the proposed new constitution for an expanded union include explicit mention of Christianity's contributions in European history.
"I thank Poland, which faithfully defended in European institutions the Christian roots of our continent, from which the culture and civil progress of our times grew," John Paul said, referring to vain efforts by his homeland and several other governments.
"The roots from which one is born cannot be cut," he said last June.
As a cardinal, the new pope took the issue one step further when he questioned whether the European Union should open its doors to predominantly Muslim Turkey. He said in a newspaper interview that Turkish membership might be incompatible with European culture.
"I think he wants to draw upon the Christian roots of Europe yet still reach out to the world," said John-Peter Pham, a Vatican analyst. "I think he will emphasize the necessity of consolidating Europe's Christian roots."
Dulles suggested Benedict may turn to the young Europeans who were inspired by John Paul. Many in the crowds that turned for John Paul's funeral were youthful, coming from many European countries.
In one of his first statements, Benedict promised to attend the church's World Youth Day, an event inaugurated by John Paul that is being be held in the new pope's native Germany in August.
Pope Invites Rabbi of Rome to Installation
Apr 21, 7:14 PM (ET)
By MARIA SANMINIATELLI
ROME (AP) - In another sign that he intends to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI invited the chief rabbi of Rome to his installation, a spokesman for Rome's Jewish community said Thursday.
The spokesman, Riccardo Pacifici, said Rabbi Riccardo di Segni received the letter Thursday. "The message that arrived brought with it surprise, pleasure and hope for the future," he said.
The Vatican could not immediately be reached for comment. But the Italian news agency ANSA quoted Benedict's letter as saying:
"In announcing to you my election and my solemn inauguration of my Pontificate ... I confide in the help of the Almighty to continue the dialogue and strengthen the collaboration with the sons and daughters of the Jewish people."
The pope's installation is scheduled for Sunday, the first day of Passover, and the rabbi will not attend the ceremony, "obviously not as an act of impoliteness, but to fulfill Jewish practices," Pacifici said.
"Let's say that this is a good beginning," he said.
Jews widely admired Pope John Paul II for his efforts to promote Jewish-Catholic reconciliation, and he won many Israeli hearts during a trip to the Holy Land in 2000 by apologizing for Roman Catholic wrongdoing over the centuries. He also was praised for establishing diplomatic relations with Israel and aiding Polish Jews during the Nazi era.
In his testament, John Paul mentioned only two living people: his longtime private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, and the now retired chief rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff, who had welcomed John Paul to the city's synagogue in 1986 in a historic gesture of reconciliation between Roman Catholics and Jews.
As a young man, the new pope served in the Hitler Youth - compulsory at the time - and was drafted into a German anti-aircraft unit at the end of World War II but later deserted. Although Benedict has been a leading voice in the church in battling anti-Semitism and fostering Jewish-Catholic relations, his past in Germany worries some Israelis.
Benedict's message to the rabbi came in response to di Segni's earlier telegram congratulating the new pope on his election, Pacifici said.
I think that's a wonderful gesture on the pope's part," said Rabbi Jack Bemporad, who has served on Vatican-Jewish committees, is director of the New Jersey-based Center for Interreligious Undertanding and has read several of the pope's books.
"When it comes to Jews I think he's very clear ... on the great importance of Jewish-Christian dialogue," Bemporad said.
Latin Americans No Match for Ratzinger
Apr 21, 9:57 PM (ET)
By FRANCES D'EMILIO
VATICAN CITY (AP) - Latin American cardinals, touted as papal contenders, appear to have posed little challenge to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when it became time to decide, according to accounts emerging from the secret conclave.
"Many were the names of Latin American cardinals mentioned in the press as 'papabili,' but in the voting, they were nowhere to be seen," Cardinal Francisco Errazuriz Ossa, archbishop of Santiago, Chile, told The Associated Press.
Others who voted in the election said the qualities of the German cardinal, a theologian and the Vatican's longtime guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy, were viewed as superb, indicating it wasn't much of a contest.
Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI, was elected Tuesday on the fourth round of voting over two days - one of the shortest conclaves in a century.
"That we chose Benedict XVI so quickly means that it went well, that his name carried great value," Polish Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski told The Associated Press in an interview a day after the election.
"Everyone knows Ratzinger was an important collaborator of John Paul II, that he was very faithful, and was a convinced, enthusiastic collaborator," said Grocholewski, who has worked several years in a top Vatican post. "The wish was to continue with this path."
Ratzinger was "one of the most-prepared cardinals, if not the most prepared one," Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes said at an informal news conference Thursday.
"He's a holy man, a humble man ... who, when you get down to it, wants to do the work of God, in service to humanity," said the Brazilian, whose own name was frequently mentioned as among the top papal contenders, or "papabili," as these cardinals are called by Italians.
Many of the cardinals prefaced their remarks to reporters with a caution they had no intention of breaking their mandatory vows of secrecy. Then, gushing with enthusiasm over the winner, they talked.
"Without giving anything away, I can say certainly there were Third World, Latin American concerns, not so much candidates but concerns, regarding poverty, and the church, on the side of the poor, was very much on a lot of the cardinals' minds," said British Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.
Italian state TV said there were indications Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, a conservative Jesuit, took a "handful of votes," in the first round, but after that, the momentum was relentless for Ratzinger.
It also said that Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini was a leading contender in initial balloting.
But the 78-year-old Martini, who said he wanted to dedicate himself to prayer and reflection when he retired as Milan archbishop a few years ago, had made clear he didn't want to be pontiff.
Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels was quoted as telling the Flemish daily De Morgen: "The election of Cardinal Ratzinger showed that it still wasn't the moment for a Latin American pope."
He didn't want to elaborate.
"If I say it, I violate the secrecy of the conclave and I don't want to be expelled by the church," Danneels was quoted as saying.
The penalty for violating the vow of secrecy is excommunication.
New York Cardinal Edward Egan, who worked for years in Rome and at the Vatican, was asked whether the new pope had the support of Catholics in Latin America and Africa.
"Obviously, he must have had support from the Third World," Egan said a few hours after Benedict was elected.
Hummes and other cardinals have indicated the voting didn't follow national or regional lines.
"It's not an important question where the pope comes from," said the Brazilian, contending that most of the "expectation" for a Third World pope had been whipped up by media.
Latin America had 20 cardinals who voted and Africa had 11. The biggest bloc by continent was Europe, with 58.
The cardinals wouldn't say how many votes Ratzinger got. A minimum of 77 was needed for the required two-thirds majority of the 115 cardinals who voted.
But comments by some indicated the winning cardinal took more than that. Murphy-O'Connor, for example, said there was a collective gasp when it was clear Ratzinger had taken at least the required minimum.
The Chilean cardinal said there were no alliances or agreements among the voters, but rather lots of prayer to "go ask God to tell us the name of the pope."
"Being pope is a tremendous burden," said Errazuriz Ossa. "It raises a lot of expectations. ... I don't believe there are many candidates to be pope."
Before the conclave, some Vatican watchers expressed reservations about the 78-year-old Ratzinger as a papal candidate because of his age, especially since frail health dogged John Paul II in the last years of his papacy.
"Age isn't important," Hummes said, when asked if cardinals had worried about health problems or life expectancy when making their choices. "There were some very short papacies which did great work."
Reporter Jorge Pina and Associated Press Writer Vanessa Gera contributed to this report.
New Pope Keeps Vatican Hierarchy Intact
Apr 21, 10:55 PM (ET)
By BRIAN MURPHY
VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI reinforced his caretaker image Thursday, reappointing the entire Vatican hierarchy chosen by his populist predecessor, John Paul II. At the same time, the new pontiff sought to dispel any impression that he was aloof or dour.
He waved and smiled at crowds gathered along the short stretch between the Vatican gates and his old apartment, where he spent some time in the afternoon. "Viva il papa!" some shouted. The pope, dressed all in white, raised both hands in a greeting.
His schedule also shows hints of the openness and symbolic gestures that were at the heart of John Paul II's reign: a meeting with journalists Saturday, an outdoor Mass to formally take the papal throne Sunday and a visit Monday to a church built over the tomb of St. Paul - an apostle who carries deep significance for Roman Catholics and Christian Orthodox.
The Vatican even unveiled new e-mail addresses for Benedict, following an innovation started by John Paul.
In the first days of his papacy, the 78-year-old Benedict has projected two clear styles.
One was expected: the confident and well-prepared Vatican insider who was one of John Paul's closest advisers for more than two decades. His decisions on the top-level posts came quickly - some popes have struggled for weeks - and showed continuity with his predecessor.
Benedict was reported to have told cardinals shortly after he was elected that his papacy would be a short reign.
There were no changes in any major Vatican office all the way up to the No. 2 slot, the secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. The only question remains who will fill the powerful job that the new pope held since 1981: overseeing church doctrine and punishing those who stray.
Among names that have surfaced are Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Austria and Cardinal Francis George of Chicago.
There is also speculation about how long Sodano will remain secretary of state. He is 77, two years past the normal retirement age for Vatican officials.
In the latest comments about the new pope's health, his brother, the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, said Thursday that Benedict "doesn't have any complaints now."
"From the point of view of his health, obviously he isn't the same as 10 years ago," Ratzinger told Sky Tg24 television. "Let's hope that everything goes well."
The second image emerging - a humble and welcoming pastor - has caught many off guard.
The pontiff's name, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, became synonymous among Catholics with the church's strictest factions and earned him nicknames that played off his German background, such as "God's rottweiler."
But top prelates and other church experts say it was an unfair reputation.
All agree that he is strongly rooted in church traditions and inflexible on issues such as the church's bans on contraception and women priests. But so was John Paul. The new pontiff may lack his predecessor's charisma, but he shares his sense of reaching out to the faithful, they say.
"He was a follower and servant of the late Pope John Paul II," Vatican-based Colombian Cardinal Lopez Trujillo told Colombian radio RCN. "He is a simple man, serene, cordial, with a fine sense of humor and very kind. ... No one has seen him in a moment of indisposition of rancor or intolerance. These are myths the press invented."
Another cardinal, Italian Tarcisio Bertone, who had worked as Ratzinger's top aide, described how the new pope always paid attention to the street cats around the Vatican and how they sometimes followed him as he walked to his office.
Bertone joked: "One time the Swiss Guards had to intervene: 'Look, your eminence, the cats are laying siege to the Holy See.'"
The Rev. Anthony Figueiredo, a Rome-trained theologian at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, said the pontiff is making the needed transition from the rigid role of "defender of doctrine" to the world stage as "unifier and spiritual leader."
Benedict "will be very firm on doctrine. We know that," said Figueiredo. "But you will see a man who is much more approachable than this reputation as an authoritarian, Germanic figure."
On Wednesday, with several nods to John Paul's groundbreaking papacy, Benedict sketched out some of his broad priorities, including "an open and sincere dialogue" with other faiths and trying to reverse the decline in church attendance and vocations in the West.
He also appears interested in picking up where John Paul left off with efforts to end the nearly 1,000-year estrangement with Orthodox churches, which broke with the Roman church over papal authority and disputes about the liturgy. One of the late pope's unfulfilled dreams was to visit Russia, the most populous Orthodox nation.
On Monday, Benedict plans to visit the Rome basilica built over the tomb of St. Paul, who helped bring Christianity to regions on both sides of the current Catholic-Orthodox divide.
The Sunday inauguration Mass on St. Peter's Square also shows he favors the populist touch of recent popes who have opted to hold their installation ceremonies outdoors rather than in St. Peter's Basilica.
The Vatican expects at least 1,500 bilingual translators from the German-speaking areas of northern Italy to assist pilgrims from the pope's homeland. The following day, the pope plans a separate audience with German faithful, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.
And in another sign Benedict intends to follow John Paul in reaching out to other religions, the new pope invited the chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo di Segni, to his installation Mass. The rabbi will not be able to attend as Sunday is the first day of Passover, but he was pleased to be asked, said Riccardo Pacifici, spokesman for the Jewish community in Rome.
Neighbors Spruce Up Pope's Childhood Home
Apr 21, 3:00 PM (ET)
By MATT SURMAN
TRAUNSTEIN, Germany (AP) - Standing by the childhood home of the man she still knows as Joseph Ratzinger, Anna Mayer recalled what her grandmother told her nearly 50 years ago: "He is something special, and he will become pope."
Mayer, a 64-year-old neighbor who knew Pope Benedict XVI since she was a child, remembers him as a handsome young man with a deep belief in God. "He was always walking on the path (through the woods) singing and practicing for the church service" with his elder brother, Georg, she said Wednesday.
The pope's childhood home on the outskirts of Traunstein, wedged between the Bavarian Alps and the Chiemsee Lake, is now crumbling, its green paint flaked and several windows broken.
Eduard Hachinger, whose father bought the house in the 1950s, worked Wednesday to slather concrete into the cracks in its foundations. By Thursday, his renovations were complete.
When he heard about Ratzinger's election as pope, his first thought was, "Oh my! Now I have to take a vacation day and fix up the house."
When he was finished, women from the neighborhood decorated the house with wreaths, ribbons and pine boughs.
In his memoirs, the pope recalled the house fondly - citing its view of the mountains and the nearby woods where the boys would play as "a paradise more beautiful that we could have even dreamed up."
The current owners live in a newer addition, while the pope's old home is now inhabited solely by a family of pet rabbits and Chuppa the cat. Mayer likes to remember the home as it was in 1951, draped with garlands for a celebration following the ordination of the Ratzinger brothers.
Down the winding roads in the town where the pope was born, Marktl am Inn, a visibly exhausted Mayor Hubert Gschwendtner beamed a steady smile.
"We are so proud that the pope is one of us - a Bavarian," he said.
In the pharmacy next to the house where Benedict was born 78 years ago, Engelbert Wimmer gazed at the town square packed with cars and people.
"We've never seen anything like this," he said, hurrying out with another round of coffee for the dozens of reporters who set up camp there after the new pope was elected Tuesday.
Wimmer said he hoped the pontiff would loosen the Roman Catholic Church's strict opposition to condoms and birth-control pills. "That would be great for business," he said.
Back in her home, Mayer leafed through prized mementos: a memorial card marking Ratzinger's 1981 appointment as the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog, newspaper clippings and letters from Ratzinger for every year of the last decade.
His writing is tiny and almost impossible to read. But he writes to Mayer like anyone else from the neighborhood - thanking her for news from home.
"I'm debating now what I should call him when next I write - Joseph or Benedict?" Mayer said with a smile. But the decision was easy. "To me, he'll always be Joseph."
Associated Press Writer Marcel Burkhardt contributed to this story from Marktl am Inn.
Pope Faces Challenge of Attracting Youth
Apr 22, 2:07 AM (ET)
By ELAINE GANLEY
PARIS (AP) - Michael Altmaier, a 23-year-old German theology student in Paris, is searching for a path to God, caught between his faith and a church he says is hobbled by outdated dogma.
He knows he is not alone and wonders whether Pope Benedict XVI, with his icy persona and conservative image, can show the way to legions of youth who have turned their backs on a church seen as distant and out of touch.
"It's a great chance for religion," he said, but finding God "is not like studying math."
The Roman Catholic Church continues to pick up converts in poor regions like Africa and South America, where priests are active in humanitarian work and where the church's message of salvation in the afterworld still resonates strongly.
But for many Europeans, rigid strictures on issues like divorce, contraception and abortion seem hopelessly antiquated and intrusive - moral relics of the era before the 1960s sexual revolution.
In numerous interviews in Paris and elsewhere, young people said personal happiness was more important than religion and many described the Church as "boring."
Daphne Martin, a 20-year-old student at Sorbonne University, is typical of many French in that she is a baptized but non-practicing Catholic. She described religion as a "medicine" that can be "useful for the sick, the lonely" - but not for her.
"In general, the young aren't interested in faith. There's too much media, too many distractions, too many reasons not to go (to church)," she said. "I don't think the new pope will change anything at that level."
Across Europe, churches remain an important part of the fabric of daily life, providing a sense of continuity in a rapidly changing world. But increasingly, the pews inside are empty.
In one extreme case in the Netherlands, a Catholic church in the southern city of Maastricht has been reborn as a popular club, "Night Live."
"Do what you want. To each his own," said 15-year-old Michael Crepy, a Belgian visiting Paris on a school trip.
Claudia Schneider, a 20-year-old in Munich, Germany, said "health and personal success" come first for her, alongside "personal openness and reliability."
The same goes for Meike Offer, a young Protestant from Hamburg, Germany, who said today's credo is "health, peace and personal happiness."
The Church began losing European youths in the 1960s. The drain stabilized in the last decade, but there has been no real return to the fold, experts say.
It means not only the flock, but the priesthood also, is dwindling to a crisis point. In France, for every one new priest each year, seven die.
"In 10 more years, there will be almost no more priests of less than 60 years old," said Yves Lambert, a sociologist with France's National Center for Scientific Research who studies religious trends. "It's a problem for the Vatican but not a problem for the young."
Even many young people whose faith remains strong feel alienated by what they consider the old-fashioned dogma of today's Roman Catholic Church.
Altmaier, the theology student, said he was "shocked" when Benedict XVI, a German like himself, was elected pope.
Altmaier turned his back on religion when he was 16 before re-embracing the Catholic Church. Yet he remains opposed to the Vatican's conservative positions on critical issues like women in the priesthood, celibacy and contraception.
"We need an open church that accepts modern times," Altmaier said.
Other young people, though, say it's too early to make a judgment. They note the significance of the name the new pope chose: Benedict, after Benedict XV, who led the church during World War I and was seen as a man of peace and reconciliation.
They also point to his plans to attend World Youth Day in Cologne in August - an event inaugurated by John Paul - and his role in the Second Vatican Council that came up with people-friendly Masses and reached out to other faiths.
The Rev. Jacques Anelli, coordinator of the National Vocation Service for priests, thinks Pope Benedict is getting a bad shake and said the icy image presented to the world is a "caricature."
Associated Press Writers David McHugh in Berlin, Vanessa Czarnecki in Paris, and Toby Sterling in Amsterdam contributed to this story.