By ERIKA ANDERSON and PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writers | Published April 28, 2005
Students at Holy Redeemer School in Alpharetta watched on television as Pope Benedict XVI emerged April 19 from behind curtains onto a balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, a real life history lesson, principal Mary Reiling said.
“The children had the wonderful opportunity to watch the new pope come out and bless the people in St. Peter’s Square,” she said. “This was a historic moment. They will not forget this event.”
Reiling said watching the election of the new pope was a reminder of God’s guiding hand upon the church.
“One of the great traditions of the Catholic Church is that the Holy Spirit guides people. Clearly the Holy Spirit guided the cardinals in the election of Pope Benedict XVI,” she said.
The principal was one of a number of people interviewed in the archdiocese following the election of the new pope after a brief conclave that opened April 18 and required only four votes to select a successor to Pope John Paul II. The 115 voting cardinals chose the new pope by a two-thirds or greater majority.
On his way to lunch when the “very exciting news” broke, Father Roberto Orellana, parochial vicar at St. Pius X Church in Conyers, commented that when Pope Benedict XVI came out onto the balcony of St. Peter’s “that was a beautiful smile” he had.
The priest, a native of El Salvador, said he’s pleased that the new pope speaks Spanish and has been to Latin America many times. On Spanish-language news channels, Archbishop Jose Octavio Ruiz of Villa Vicensio, Colombia, who served as a close advisor to then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, spoke very highly of the new pope, Father Orellana said.
“He had high praise for him and his relationship with the church in Latin America,” he said. “He said he’s always been very interested and kept the troubled areas of Latin America in his prayers.”
The Hispanic priest expected the conclave to select a transitional pope, who would continue the direction set by his predecessor but with his own character.
“Certainly he’ll carry on the legacy of John Paul II in his own way and in his own personality. We shouldn’t expect him to be another John Paul II,” Father Orellana said. “He’ll bring different charisms and different gifts to the church and I’m hoping he’ll continue to work with the youth. John Paul was such a high (profile figure), somebody needs to take us down and lead the church in the same direction and give the church time to breathe.”
Father Joe Shaute, 41, a parochial vicar at St. Theresa Church in Douglasville, said though the cardinals picked an obvious choice, there was still a surprise in the election.
“The position he has been in the last 24 years has been as the watchdog of church dogma and traditions and teachings, and it’s a position in which it’s very hard to make friends,” Father Shaute said. “On paper it may seem that he has a lot of enemies, but I think this (election) shows just how much respect people have for him. Really, when you think about it, he is the one person who can best fill the shoes of John Paul II. No one else among the cardinals worked as closely with him for so long.”
Though he has been portrayed as a “hardliner” by some observers, Father Shaute said he thinks the pope’s firm belief in the “absolute truth” of the faith will make him a great leader.
“When our parents teach us things and discipline us, it’s out of love, even though we may not see it at the time. When a child grows up with loving parents, who embody all dimensions of love, including tough love, when they grow up, they will look back and be glad that their parents had that courage, that they stood up for something,” he said. “I think that’s even more important as a pope. As the Catholic Church, we are fighting against world views that stand for nothing … that say that my personal opinion is equal to the moral truth of God. (Pope Benedict) has stood up for what he believes in more than anyone we know of. That’s a very fatherly role.”
One of the “most learned men” in the church, the new pope knows “better than anyone else” the challenges that face the church, because he has been facing them for 25 years as a trusted adviser to Pope John Paul II and as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Father Shaute said.
“He is trying to make sure the church will remain relevant but will also remain faithful to what the church is supposed to be,” he said. “We’re going to see a different side to the office of pope. He has a different perspective and a different style than John Paul, but he has been a model of faithfulness his whole life, and I think he will be a good shepherd.”
Father David Dye, priest-in-charge of Mary Our Queen Mission, Norcross, has a particular appreciation for the orthodoxy of Pope Benedict XVI. Formerly an Episcopal priest, Father Dye, who is married, became a Catholic and later a Catholic priest because he was attracted to the teaching authority and consistency of Catholicism. In the 1980s Cardinal Ratzinger, as head of the doctrinal congregation, was the high profile figure ensuring priests and theologians were teaching only Catholic doctrine, Father Dye recalled.
“The Catholic faith is true and there can’t be adaptation to the (passing) culture. That is one of his big messages and that is … the primary reason I became Catholic,” Father Dye said. “Certain things have definitions and you can’t make them up as you go.”
He acknowledged that Pope Benedict XVI may communicate more readily “to the people most loyal to the church, people who really are interested in the church and committed to the church.”
Pope Benedict’s writings reflect that “the man is brilliant,” but he is one who speaks frankly—as Germans are known to do, Father Dye said.
“So much of our culture is shallow and superficial,” he said, adding that while many assert the new pope “is just a hard man,” he thinks the new pope has depth of intellect and strength that is exactly what is needed.
“Peter was chosen to be the first pope because he was a rock. Jesus chose somebody really strong, not wishy-washy, somebody ready to jump off the boat,” said Father Dye. “(Pope Benedict XVI) is a very artistic and cultured man and has a lot to say about art and music. He just doesn’t have a lot of patience with shallowness and patience with superficial culture.”
In Europe it will take “a very strong leader” to help revitalize the faith, said the priest, who lived in France for four years and travels there yearly.
The continent has endured two world wars, has a deeply embedded “ideological secularism,” and has been influenced by socialism and communism, as well as an existential mentality, he said. “The church there is discombobulated. It’s really just out of touch with its own roots. It doesn’t speak to secular culture.”
Deacon Lloyd Sutter, administrator of the archdiocesan Department of Religious Education and Faith Formation, said he believes that Pope Benedict XVI reflects the cardinals’ support for continuity with the vision and direction set by Pope John Paul II.
“He would be a logical choice to continue the momentum of the new evangelization which was well expressed by (Pope John Paul II) in his last book ‘Memory and Identity,’” Deacon Sutter said.