Benedict's 100 days: New style, old ideas

Two large images of the late Pope John Paul II tower over Lisena inside her take-away pizza shop near the Vatican. Below and to the right, a postcard-sized photo of his successor struggles to make itself seen between slices of Spicy Salame and Margherita pizza.

“The guy up there is not one we are going to forget so easily,” says Lisena in between serving customers.

Three months after his election as supreme leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Benedict XVI is still having to confront the legacy of one of the most popular pontificates in modern history.

Though he may not yet have had a chance to warm people’s hearts, the new pope has already displayed a departure from the old pontificate—if only in style, rather than content.

Elected the 265th leader of the Church on April 19, German-born Joseph Ratzinger has chosen for his first holiday the same chalet in a resort in the Italian Alps that was long favoured by his predecessor.

But unlike John Paul, an enthusiastic hiker, 78-year-old Benedict has been spending much of his time indoors, studying and playing Beethoven on his beloved piano.

Papal watchers believe he may working on a batch of new appointments—he has so far confirmed all of the Vatican’s top officials—as well as his first encyclical, which will be regarded as a sort of “political manifesto” guiding his papacy.

According to John Allen, a Rome-based correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, Benedict will probably want to lay out the philosophical and theological basis for his battle against what he has called the “dictatorship of relativism”.

The centrality of Christ in human history will also be a likely theme, Allen notes.

In the absence of a major document or ground-breaking decision, the contours of the nascent pontificate may be inferred from what Benedict has done during his first 100 days in office.

Little in the way of novelty has so far emerged from the theological point of view. But this is hardly surprising.

As the longtime Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church body that guards Catholic orthodoxy, Cardinal Ratzinger was already one of the most influential men within the Holy See, advising his superior and helping draft many of the documents signed by John Paul.

The desire for continuity with the old pontificate is thought to have played a decisive role in cardinals’ decision to elect him with an overwhelming majority in a two-day conclave that turned out to be one of the shortest in recent history.

In fact, Ratzinger had all but spelled out his views during the funeral rites for John Paul II, over which he presided, and in which he stated: “An adult faith does not follow the waves of fashion and the latest novelty”.

Ratzinger was, is and always will be a steadfast conservative.
Few eyebrows were raised, therefore, when as Pope Benedict he confirmed his aversion to condoms and homosexuality or his opposition to re-married divorced Catholics being allowed access to Holy Communion.

Such unwillingness to compromise suits some people fine.

“I like him, he’s cool and seems to know what he’s doing. I also like the fact that he is a conservative,” says Thomas, the owner of a bar near the Vatican and the proud father of a new-born baby daughter.

Others, like young Danish tourist Johan, are less impressed.

“He doesn’t look like one who is willing to bring the Church into a new era,” he says while strolling along the Vatican Walls in the direction of the entrance to the Vatican Museums.

But while there may be little novelty in the way of content, Benedict has certainly brought about a change of style to the papacy.

This pope still reaches out to the crowds and waves to them from his white popemobile, but he appears less interested in folklore and mass events than his predecessor was. Instead, Latin and Gregorian chants now feature prominently in the liturgies.

As far as trips are concerned, Benedict is unlikely to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, the most travelled pope in history with more than 100 trips abroad.

His first major trip will take place on August 18, when he will head for Cologne, in his homeland of Germany, to attend Catholic World Youth Day.

Thereafter, he is likely to focus on fewer but nevertheless significant trips.

Because of his stress on ecumenism, these could include visits to countries where the Orthodox Church is strong—above all Turkey, Eastern Europe and, perhaps, the Russian Federation. - Sapa-DPA