In his earlier columns and in his 2000 biography of Cardinal Ratzinger, Allen was the kind of reporter one tends to find writing in NCR: a reflexively American "Catholic liberal." I would read NCR on the "Left," and Crisis on the "Right," but both tended to be infuriatingly self-righteous and distasteful. Both had inherited the same kind of polarized "black-and-white," "good-and-evil=us-vs.-them" form of thinking that has been increasingly ruinous for American culture and politics. The inability to see complexity and to avoid demonizing one's chosen opponents was characteristic of both periodicals, I thought. But Allen's column grew increasingly complex and restrained, and had an increasing ability, it seemed to me, to aid in the development of one's perspective and not to dictate one. When he was here at Marquette last year, it was satisfying to hear him deny the calls of those who wanted him to just affirm such simplistic prejudices--such as a blanket condemnation of Opus Dei as an organization of evil conservatives--and to truly be willing to listen and to try to report a variety of perspectives fairly. That's not just good journalism and good politics: it's good Christianity.
Even if you're not interested in Allen and his work as such, the reflections on being part of the massive press coverage of April (Allen was also an on-air expert for CNN) is also well worth reading.
Pondering the first draft of history: Reflections on covering one pope's funeral and another's election
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
I want to thank "Word From Rome" readers for their patience these last three weeks, as the column has been on hiatus during the intense period surrounding the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI. In the wake of the papal election, I am finishing a project, a book on the conclave and new papacy for Doubleday, that is due May 10. So the column will remain in limbo for a few more weeks while I finish that manuscript.
In the meantime, however, I wanted to share some quick, initial impressions of the momentous days we all have just experienced. These thoughts, coming hot on the heels of the events themselves, are scattered and perhaps not especially profound, but perhaps worth recording.
* * *
In the immediate aftermath of the election of Benedict XVI, several readers wrote, not without a tinge of schadenfreude, to remind me that in May 2002 I wrote a column predicting that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger would not be elected pope. Others pointed out that in my "Top 20" list posted on the National Catholic Reporter's Web site, Ratzinger's name did not appear.
So, let me acknowledge, publicly and clearly, that I did not predict this.
In my defense, however, I would note that in my revised 2004 edition of Conclave, I listed Ratzinger among the candidates to watch. Moreover, in an April 14 story for the NCR Web site, four days before the opening of the conclave, I wrote the following: "The push for Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the pope's doctrinal czar for 24 years and the dean of the College of Cardinals, is for real. There is a strong basis of support for Ratzinger in the college, and his performance in the period following the death of the pope, especially his eloquent homily at the funeral Mass, seems to have further cemented that support. One Vatican official who has worked with Ratzinger over the years said on April 13, 'I am absolutely sure that Ratzinger will be the next pope.'"
On April 16, two days before the conclave, I wrote: "Despite the nonstop speculation surrounding the conclave that opens April 18, the press seems to have at least one thing right: In the early stages, the balloting will likely shape up as a 'yes' or 'no' to the candidacy of German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger."
Hence I was not quite as off-key as some of my earlier writings might suggest. Nevertheless, it remains true that, like most commentators, my judgment was colored by some of the old bits of conventional wisdom about papal elections: that he who goes in a pope, comes out a cardinal (now false in three of the last six elections); that the 76 percent of the cardinals who are residential would not elect a curial candidate; that a man too closely identified with the policies of the previous pontificate would not be elected; that 78 was too old. All of that, it turns out, was hogwash.
Having spoken with a number of cardinals after the election, it seems clear to me that I and most of my colleagues simply over-analyzed this election. We thought in terms of geographical blocks, political interests, and public relations concerns; the cardinals, it seems, just asked themselves who among them was the best man for the job and voted accordingly. The fact that it didn't take them long suggests it did not strike them as an exceptionally difficult judgment to make.
As I said many times in lectures and on television when asked about Ratzinger, whatever you make of his theological positions, there's no question the man has everything you'd want in a pope: intellect, experience, integrity, deep spirituality, a gift for languages, and a sense of the universal church. Moreover, the list of such men in the College of Cardinals was not especially long.
I suppose the major reason I entertained doubts about Ratzinger as a papabile is what might be called the "baggage" factor. Fairly or unfairly, in some Catholic circles Ratzinger is a lightning rod, a beloved hero among conservatives and something of a Darth Vader figure for Catholic progressives. I wondered if the cardinals would want to elect as pope someone who brought with them that kind of profile.
Every journalist covering the Vatican to some extent reflects the limitations of his or her own nationality and cultural experience, and on this point, in hindsight, I see how much of an American I was. In Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe, Ratzinger has no such profile, except in very restricted theological circles. Cardinals from those parts of the world did not bring such concerns. It's really only in pockets of Western Europe and North America that the broader Catholic public had any sense of the man prior to his election, explaining why some of the initial reservations about Ratzinger's candidacy came from American and German cardinals. In the end, they too seemed persuaded that the man the world would know as Benedict XVI would not match the public profile sometimes associated with Ratzinger, whom I once dubbed "the Vatican's enforcer."
On this score, it may be that the cardinals had better instincts than I did. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll of American Catholics conducted shortly after the white smoke came up from the Sistine Chapel found that 31 percent had a favorable reaction to the new pope, 9 percent unfavorable, and almost 60 percent said they didn't have enough information to reach a conclusion. In other words, more than 90 percent of American Catholics already like the pope, or at least are willing to give him a chance. That's considerably less baggage than I might have guessed.
Still, nine percent of America's 65 million Catholics amounts to roughly 5.8 million people, which is a large pocket of opposition right out of the gate. Those numbers have been mirrored in polls across Western Europe. Obviously, Pope Benedict is aware that some Catholics have trepidations about where his papacy will go, and he has been at pains in the early days to calm anxieties. In his programmatic talk on Wednesday morning, April 20, following Mass with the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, he talked about dialogue, ecumenism, inter-religious outreach, the need for the church to witness to authentic social development, and his desire to transmit joy and hope to the world.
On Monday, April 25, in an audience with representatives of other religions, the pope said: "At the beginning of my pontificate I address to you, believers in religious traditions who represent all those who seek the truth with a sincere heart, a strong invitation to become together artisans of peace in a reciprocal commitment of comprehension, respect and love."
Make no mistake: the pontificate of Benedict XVI will be dramatic, and it will not always be comfortable for Catholics with views that might conventionally be described as "liberal" on matters of sexual morality, theological dissent, or authority in the church. At the same time, Pope Benedict is known as a man of deep intelligence and profound love for the church, and to date there's no evidence that he intends to launch a new anti-modernist purge. (That hasn't stopped some gleeful partisans from drawing up their own enemies lists, but it's too early to know what will come of all this).
My own sense is that Benedict is a pope who may surprise all of us. Whichever way the pontificate goes, it will be fascinating to watch.
* * *
Six years ago, I wrote a biography of the man who is now pope titled Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vatican's Enforcer of the Faith. In the intervening period, I have learned a few things about the universal Catholic church and how things look from different perspectives. If I were to write the book again today, I'm sure it would be more balanced, better informed, and less prone to veer off into judgment ahead of sober analysis.
This, I want to stress, is not a Johnny-come-lately conclusion motivated by the fact that the subject of the book has now become the pope. In a lecture delivered at the Catholic University of America as part of the Common Ground series, on June 25, 2004, I said the following about the book:
"My 'conversion' to dialogue originated in a sort of 'bottoming out.' It came with the publication of my biography of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, issued by Continuum in 2000 and titled The Vatican's Enforcer of the Faith. The first major review appeared in Commonweal, authored by another of my distinguished predecessors in this lecture series, Fr. Joseph Komonchak. It was not, let me be candid, a positive review. Fr. Komonchak pointed out a number of shortcomings and a few errors, but the line that truly stung came when he accused me of "Manichean journalism." He meant that I was locked in a dualistic mentality in which Ratzinger was consistently wrong and his critics consistently right. I was initially crushed, then furious. I re-read the book with Fr. Komonchak's criticism in mind, however, and reached the sobering conclusion that he was correct. The book - which I modestly believe is not without its merits - is nevertheless too often written in a "good guys and bad guys" style that vilifies the cardinal. It took Fr. Komonchak pointing this out, publicly and bluntly, for me to ask myself, 'Is this the kind of journalist I want to be'? My answer was no, and I hope that in the years since I have come to appreciate more of those shades of gray that Fr. Komonchak rightly insists are always part of the story.
After Ratzinger's election as Benedict XVI was announced, I had hoped to have the opportunity to write a new preface for the book contextualizing some of the views it expresses. Unfortunately, the publisher in the United States, for reasons that I suppose are fairly obvious, had already begun reprinting the book without consulting me. Hence it is probably already appearing in bookstores, without any new material from me.
I can't do anything about that, although the British publishers were kind enough to ask me to write a new preface, which I have already done, so at least the damage will be limited in the U.K.
What is under my control, however, is a new book for Doubleday (a Random House imprint), which I hope will be a more balanced and mature account of both Ratzinger's views and the politics that made him pope. It has been in the works for some time and I hope it will be worthy of the enormity of the story, and the trust of those who elect to read it.
* * *
Some readers may have had the chance to catch bits and pieces of my commentary on CNN during the period from the final days of John Paul II, through the funeral Mass, the opening of the conclave, the election of Benedict XVI, and his inaugural Mass on April 24. As draining as all that work was -- American TV is at a special disadvantage when it comes to events in Rome, since prime time in the States ends at around 5 a.m. here -- I'm nevertheless conscious of what an extraordinary privilege it was to be able to help tell the story to the world as it unfolded.
Though the entire period was almost indescribable, the experience that left the deepest impression came the evening of April 2, the night John Paul II died. I was at my office when the SMS flash came over my cell phone from the Vatican press office. Moments later, I stepped onto a Roman rooftop with CNN's Aaron Brown, and for the next few hours we guided our audience through an examination of who John Paul was, what he accomplished and where he fell short, and why he meant so much to such a broad swath of humanity. I was conscious of the enormity of the subject, and of my own inadequacy to put it into words, especially unscripted and facing the pressure of speaking in short television bursts. In our own way, however, I think we managed to convey, however imperfectly, something of the singularity of the moment, and I'm exceedingly proud of what we accomplished.
That night was magic, and I will carry the memory of it with me forever.
It should be said that this work with CNN was possible because the National Catholic Reporter made the decision five years before that the Vatican required full-time coverage, and invested the resources to allow me to open up shop here. For that, I am eternally grateful.
Oddly enough, having prepared for these experiences night and day for more than five years, having run through endless scenarios on both logistical and journalistic fronts, the one thing that I never accounted for is that I would also have a personal, emotional response. After all, a man died, and not just any man -- John Paul loomed incredibly large in my life. I met him eight times, traveled with him to 21 nations, and probably wrote millions of words about him all told. While I realize there are perfectly reasonable criticisms to be made of various aspects of his papacy, what seems to me beyond question is that he was a man of deep faith and integrity, a genuinely good person striving by his lights to serve God, the church, and all of humanity. His final days taught me, and taught all of us, how to face impending death with both grit and grace, and it's a lesson I will never forget.
All that came to a crescendo during the funeral Mass, as I was sitting next to Christiane Amanpour and my colleague Delia Gallagher on the CNN set, watching the papal gentlemen pick up the pope's casket and turn it around for one final farewell to the crowd in St. Peter's Square. At that moment I had to choke back tears, realizing in an instant that I would never write another sentence about John Paul II in the present tense.
You don't say goodbye to someone like John Paul without a sense of loss. Yet the nature of the business being what it is, within hours we were off to the pre-conclave conversation, setting the stage for the next act in the drama.
Having lived it all from the inside, one reflection that strikes me is what an amazing stretch of coverage it was for the Catholic church worldwide. I dare say that never before has Catholic theology, liturgy and ecclesiology been laid out so thoroughly and continuously before a worldwide audience. I can't begin to describe how many middle-of-the-night phone calls I received from people in Atlanta and New York, to say nothing of Rome, striving to get the details right on matters large and small (ranging from what the core differences between Catholics and Protestants are, for example, all the way to why the cardinals wore white for the inaugural Mass).
While occasionally one can spot instances of bias or sloppiness in any profession, I would argue that it will be difficult after this experience to assert that the secular media, in any systematic way, is "anti-Catholic."
Moreover, it was fascinating listening to seasoned media professionals, including some of the biggest names in the business, wrestle with why these events -- especially those infinite lines to pay last respects to John Paul II, and the overwhelming outpouring of emotion at his funeral Mass -- had an impact on them. As if for the first time, some journalists found themselves wrestling with profound questions about God, themselves, and the meaning and purpose of human existence. What will come out of any of that is of course unknowable, but at least it had network executives in the last couple of weeks pondering whether they had under-valued the importance of religion stories.
That, surely, has to got to constitute a final mark in the positive side of John Paul's ledger.
* * *
Just a quick apology to all those colleagues from newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets in various parts of the world who called seeking comment over the last month, whom I never called back or was never able to help. Please know that it was not for a lack of interest or respect, but simply a question of my contractual obligations, in the first place, and then time in the second.
* * *
Finally, I would like to thank the members of the National Catholic Reporter's conclave coverage team: Tom Roberts, editor of NCR; Sr. Rita Larivee, publisher; Sr. Joan Chittister; Stacy Meichtry; and Dennis Coday, whom I include even though he stayed behind in Kansas City, because he provided invaluable backup editorial and technical support.
It was a joy sharing this experience with such talented and resourceful professionals, even if my crazy schedule meant I didn't actually see very much of any of them. I think we all can be proud of the documentary record of these days that NCR produced. I don't know of any press outlet that did a better job of capturing both the content and the "feel" of these days from diverse points of view.
I would also like to acknowledge my wife, Shannon, whom everyone on the NCR team will attest provided critical logistical and moral support throughout the long days and even longer nights. Her unpaid assistance loomed large in whatever successes we were able to achieve.
Journalism, they say, is the first draft of history, and I hope that what NCR produced over these days will become a standard resource in any future telling of these events.
Editor's Note: With this "The Word From Rome" column, NCR ends its special coverage of the papal transition. The reports by NCR writers and contributers will remain available online, but daily postings will end. NCR will continue to cover the papacy of Benedict XVI in the pages of its news weekly and on its Web site, NCRonline.org.
(Okay, I threw in a few other articles, too.)
Cardinals say hype, global awareness created hope of Third World pope
By Barbara J. Fraser
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In the days leading up to the conclave, expectations were high about an outcome that would have been practically inconceivable 30 years ago: that the next pope might be from Asia, Africa or Latin America.
Speculation had centered especially on cardinals from Argentina, Brazil, Honduras and Nigeria, but in the end the cardinal-electors chose a European, German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI.
Did the rapidity of the decision mean the time was not yet ripe for the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics to come from another part of the world?
"In part, the expectation was created by the media," said Cardinal Francisco Errazuriz Ossa of Santiago, Chile, president of the Latin American bishops' council.
Still, he said, media hype is not entirely to blame.
"There is a strong awareness of how the church is growing in other parts of the world, such as India and Korea, and how the church in Latin America is alive and growing," Cardinal Errazuriz said. "So it's normal that people could think that the pope could come from another part of the world."
In this conclave, the cardinal said, the legacy of Pope John Paul II weighed heavily in the balance.
"It is evident that the appreciation for the papacy of Pope John Paul II is so great, and the way he continued applying the principles of the Second Vatican Council is so appreciated, that what the electors undoubtedly wanted was to deepen that through a pope who had been very close to John Paul II and who has great personal qualifications," he said.
Nevertheless, said Cardinal Errazuriz, "I think that in the future there will be a pope from Latin America, India or another part of the world, because the College of Cardinals has become so international."
The 115 cardinals who voted in the conclave came from 52 countries. The European church still had the largest number, with 46 from Western Europe and 12 from Eastern Europe; there were 20 from Latin America, 11 from Africa and 10 from Asia.
Although the number of cardinals from those regions was about the same as in the conclave that elected Pope John Paul, the church in those regions of the world now has greater visibility, thanks in part to the last pope's travels.
There is still, however, a risk that their voices may not always be heard.
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles told Catholic News Service that when cardinals from Europe and North America seemed to be dominating the cardinals' preconclave meetings, Pope Benedict, as dean of the College of Cardinals, asked members from Africa and Asia to prepare presentations about their regions.
That and other gestures reassured cardinals from other parts of the world that the new pope would listen to their views.
"We had to express our own needs. We had to let the other cardinals know what is happening in our part of the world," said Cardinal Ricardo Vidal of Cebu, Philippines. In homilies and messages since the election, he said, Pope Benedict "is reaching out to other religions, to Islam and the Jewish people. He is looking beyond, in every sense, because he's now looking at all the problems in a worldwide way. His horizon has already been extended."
Cardinal Julio Terrazas Sandoval of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, said he also believes that Pope Benedict will be sensitive to the needs of the church throughout the world.
"I think that he will also respond to the hopes of all of our peoples, without forgetting, however, that this is the first time in the history of the church that there has been such a strong presence of the Latin American church in a conclave," Cardinal Terrazas said.
Sooner or later, a pope from another region of the world will be elected, he said, although "that will always depend on the needs of the church and the force of the Spirit that guides our church."
While the mood at Pope Benedict XVI's installation was generally one of celebration, there was some wistfulness that the new leader of the church was not from a developing country.
"I would have liked to have seen a Latin American or an African," said Lavor Neto, a 28-year-old law student from Fortaleza, Brazil, as he watched the opening procession of the new pope's installation Mass in St. Peter's Square. Such a pontiff, he said, "would be closer to countries in those parts of the world, which are so Catholic."
Meeting future expectations about a pope from Latin America, Asia or Africa may also depend on very human efforts.
"I suppose some people will be disappointed" that the pope did not come from one of those regions "because they created unreal expectations," said Cardinal Wilfrid F. Napier of Durban, South Africa. "For us to say we want a cardinal from Africa elected pope, that would be quite unrealistic."
More groundwork must be laid before a non-European pope is elected, he said.
"The real question here is to what extent are the churches in those areas developing people who will be 'papabili' in the future?"
Another issue is how well the cardinals know one another -- and the problems of the church around the world -- when they meet to choose a pope.
"How many conclaves does one celebrate in one's lifetime?" asked Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako of Khartoum, Sudan. "The church itself has to create a sincere exchange of views and information from the different churches. This is one of the weakest parts of bishops coming together."
Asked whether the conclave and the cardinals' preconclave meetings had raised an awareness of the need for greater communication among church leaders, Cardinal Zubeir Wako said, "I think that feeling is there among almost everyone, but it is hard to put it into practice."
While Pope John Paul called an unprecedented number of synods, such meetings of bishops do not provide a real exchange of views if they are too rigidly structured, the cardinal said. He called for a change from the model used by Pope John Paul, in which bishops read individual statements about a designated theme, with little or no time for discussion and debate.
"We have so much formality," Cardinal Zubeir Wako said. "We need, first of all, to know one another as human beings."
At first audience, pope shares reasons for choosing 'Benedict'
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- At the first general audience of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI sat in the full force of the spring sun, expressing again his "awe and gratitude" that God chose him to lead the Catholic Church.
God, he said, "surprised me first of all."
Although leading more than 1 billion Catholics is a huge task, the knowledge that he will have the help of God and of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the spiritual support of the faithful "gives me serenity and joy," he said.
Pope Benedict began the audience by touring St. Peter's Square in an open popemobile for about 10 minutes. He stood the entire time, waving and blessing the crowd.
He told the estimated 15,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square that in the coming weeks he would continue the series of audience talks Pope John Paul II had begun on the psalms and canticles used in the church's morning and evening prayers.
But first, he said, he wanted to share with the public his reasons for choosing the name Benedict when he was elected pope April 19.
"I wanted to call myself Benedict XVI to bind myself to the venerated Pope Benedict XV, who guided the church in a troubled period because of the First World War. He was a courageous and authentic prophet of peace and worked with valiant courage first to prevent the drama of war and then to limit its nefarious consequences," he said.
"In his footsteps, I want to place my ministry at the service of reconciliation and harmony among individuals and peoples, deeply convinced that the great good of peace is, first of all, a gift of God, a fragile and precious gift to invoke, safeguard and build day after day with the help of everyone," Pope Benedict said.
The second reason for choosing the name, he said, was to evoke the spirit of St. Benedict, founder of Western monasticism.
In his prepared text, the pope had noted that St. Benedict is a co-patron of Europe along with Sts. Cyril and Methodius. In his Italian-language talk, he went off script to pay homage to Sts. Bridget of Sweden, Catherine of Siena and Edith Stein, who also are invoked as patrons of Europe and Italy.
Pope Benedict said the expansion of Benedictine monasticism had "an enormous influence on the spread of Christianity over the whole continent."
"St. Benedict is very venerated in Germany, particularly in Bavaria, my homeland; he is a basic point of reference for the unity of Europe and a strong reminder of the undeniable Christian roots of its culture and civilization," he said.
Pope Benedict asked the saint "to help us keep Christ firmly at the center of our existence. May he always have first place in our thoughts and in all our activities."
The new pope, ably keeping to the general audience tradition, gave his main talk in Italian, then read summaries and greetings in French, English, German and Spanish.
To the delight of an estimated 2,000 Polish pilgrims, he also read greetings in Polish, thanking the pilgrims for "your goodness and your prayers."
He did not, however, read the greetings prepared for him in Croatian and Slovenian.
At the end of the audience, Pope Benedict led the crowd in singing the Lord's Prayer, which got off to a rocky start with some prelates singing in Italian and the pope singing more strongly in Latin. He waved his arms like an orchestra conductor, getting everyone singing the same language and in unison.
Before getting into the popemobile for another, briefer ride through the crowd, he personally greeted dozens of cardinals and bishops present for the gathering. He also personally thanked the officials from the Secretariat of State who introduce groups according to the language they speak.
When the English-speaking pilgrims were introduced, there was a long pause to allow the choir from Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines, Iowa, to sing a tribute to the new pope.
Pope drops papal crown from coat of arms, adds miter, pallium
By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The papal crown has been given the boot once again, this time no longer appearing as part of the new pope's coat of arms.
Pope Benedict XVI has dispensed with the image of the three-tiered tiara that traditionally appeared at the top of each pope's coat of arms and replaced it with the pointed miter.
The pope also has added the pallium, the woolen stole symbolizing a bishop's authority, to the elements surrounding the shield.
The details of the new papal blazon were published in the April 28 edition of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano. A copy was released April 27 to journalists.
"Benedict XVI has chosen a coat of arms that is rich in symbolism and meaning, so as to put his personality and his papacy in the hands of history," said Italian Archbishop Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, an expert on heraldry and creator of Benedict XVI's new insignia.
"For at least the past eight centuries, popes have had their own personal coats of arms in addition to the symbols of the Apostolic See," the archbishop said in the Vatican newspaper.
While each papal shield is unique, the elements surrounding it had more or less remained the same for centuries -- until now.
Gone is the beehive-shaped crown whose actual use in important ceremonies was abandoned during the papacy of Paul VI. For Pope Benedict's ensign, the more modest and recognizable miter has taken its place.
But the silver miter has three gold stripes to mirror the symbolism of the papal tiara's three tiers: "order, jurisdiction and magisterum," said Archbishop Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, who had served as an apostolic nuncio for more than 20 years.
A vertical gold band connects the three stripes in the middle "to indicate their unity in the same person," he said.
Another novelty is the addition of the white pallium with black crosses draped below the shield.
"It indicates the (bishop's) role of being pastor of the flock entrusted to him by Christ," wrote Archbishop Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo.
What has not changed and has been part of papal emblems for centuries is the Holy See's insignia of two crossed keys, which symbolize the powers Christ gave to the Apostle Peter and his successors. The gold key on the right represents the power in heaven and the silver key on the left indicates the spiritual authority of the papacy on earth. The cord that unites the two keys alludes to the bond between the two powers.
Nestled on top of the keys lies the unique shield of Pope Benedict, which is based on his coat of arms as archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany, and is particularly rich in personal and spiritual symbolism, wrote Archbishop Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo.
The shield is divided into three sections -- each of which has its own symbol.
The central element on a red background is a large gold shell that has theological and spiritual significance for the pope, the archbishop said. The shell recalls a legend in which St. Augustine came across a boy on the seashore who was scooping water from the sea and pouring it into a small hole he had dug in the sand.
When the saint pondered this seemingly futile activity, it struck him as analogous to limited human minds trying to understand the infinite mystery of the divine.
"The shell reminds me of my great master Augustine, of my theological work, and of the vastness of the mystery which surpasses all our learning," wrote then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his 1997 autobiography "Milestones, Memoirs: 1927-1977."
Also, Archbishop Cordero di Montezemolo wrote that the shell has long symbolized the pilgrim, "a symbolism Benedict XVI wants to keep alive" after Pope John Paul II, "the great pilgrim."
The shell is also present in the coat of arms of the Schotten monastery in Regensburg, Germany, to which the pope "feels very spiritually close," the archbishop said.
The upper left-hand section of the shield depicts a brown-faced Moor with red lips, crown and collar; it is a symbol of the former Diocese of Freising dating back to the eighth century.
Though it is not known why the Moor came to represent Freising, the pope said for him "it is an expression of the universality of the church which knows no distinctions of race or class since all are one in Christ," he said in his book, "Milestones."
Finally, a brown bear loaded with a pack on his back lumbers up the upper right-hand section of the shield.
The bear is tied to an old Bavarian legend about the first bishop and patron saint of the Diocese of Freising, St. Corbinian. According to the legend, when the saint was on his way to Rome, a bear attacked and killed his horse. St. Corbinian punished the bear by making him carry the saint's belongings the rest of the way to Rome.
Archbishop Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo said the bear symbolizes the beast "tamed by the grace of God," and the pack he is carrying symbolizes "the weight of the episcopate."
The pope said in his 1997 autobiography: "Meanwhile, I have carried my pack to Rome and wander for some time now through the streets of the Eternal City. When release will come I cannot know. What I do know is that I am God's pack animal, and, as such, close to him."