Memory of John Paul II Surrounds Installation


New York Times

April 24, 2005

The memory of John Paul II lay draped over the installation of his successor, Benedict XVI, in ways profound and earthly.

In his homily, Benedict not only quoted his predecessor - "Be not afraid!" - but also returned to language he had used previously implying that John Paul was a saint.

He even rode through the crowd in St. Peter's Square in an open car, a gesture reminiscent of John Paul's practice before an assassination attempt in 1981.

"The new pope, it seems to me, is harvesting what John Paul II sowed, and is sowing it in the same way," said Fabrizio Sini, 31, a plumber from Prato, in Tuscany. "John Paul II is a saint, and soon he will make him one," he said of Benedict.

John Paul's presence at the installation of his predecessor was probably not surprising, given the length and towering impact of his papacy. But the church is also fixed on using that legacy in its struggle to corral more Catholics in a secular West.

The impact on today's crowd was obvious. In his homily, Benedict mentioned John Paul often. Those mentions prompted frequent applause in the crowd of 350,000, which filled the square and poured down the boulevard leading into it.

Addressing young people, Benedict quoted from John Paul's own installation Mass on Oct. 22, 1978: "Be not afraid of Christ!" Clapping erupted. "Yes, open the doors to Christ," he said, continuing John Paul's words, which have become something of a motto.

At the opening of the homily, he used the kind of language often heard in public statements by cardinals in the days after John Paul' death. Before his election, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict eulogized John Paul as "standing today at the window of the Father's house." Many in the crowd at the funeral chanted for sainthood, and reports of miracles attributed to him began flourishing.

Today, Benedict said the saints of every age "form a living procession to accompany him into the next world." They were waiting for him, he said, adding, "Now we know that he is among his own and is truly at home."

The Rev. Rafal Kaminski, a 28-year-old priest from Poland, John Paul's native land, called the words "fantastic."

"It continues John Paul II's mission and thinking," he said. Indeed, Benedict sounded several themes dear to his predecessor reaching out to other Christian denominations, the Jews and young people.

Father Kaminski had traveled to Rome on pilgrimage with 500 Poles from Warsaw. One of them, Marta Blad, also called John Paul a saint. "I think that he is in heaven, and is looking down at us, at the moment," she said.

The homily was long and dense, and hearing Benedict deliver it provided a striking contrast with John Paul. In his last years, he began delegating much of his public speeches to other prelates because of failing health. And for many who grew used to seeing an enfeebled pontiff who used a wheelchair, Benedict's mobility was also striking. He is 78, and is said to be in good health.

"There is a vibrancy about it," said Robert Docherty, 53, of Glasgow. Speaking of John Paul, he said, "Over the last few months he was very frail, and it was such a sad sight."

After the Mass, Benedict mounted a Jeep-like white vehicle, which closely resembled the one John Paul had used, and toured the square. After the assassination attempt in 1981, John Paul rode in glass-enclosed "popemobiles" or armored limousines. Several of the same aides and security officials familiar from so many such rides accompanied Benedict.

A personal dimension was also present in Benedict's evocations of John Paul, and parts of the homily sounded like one last farewell at the end of a string of huge Masses connected to the papal transition.

Cardinal Ratzinger was one of John Paul's closest advisers, lunching with him weekly and serving as his doctrinal eyes and ears. He was the prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican agency that oversees the church's teachings.

Their lives were inextricably linked, and their biographies ran parallel. Both came from the heart of Europe and reached adulthood under Nazi domination. The people of eastern Germany and Poles both fell behind the Iron Curtain. Both were young experts called on to help draft the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the meetings in the early 1960's that transformed the church.

Some historians have suggested they might have met at the council. George Weigel, a John Paul biographer, said they had met after the death of Paul VI in 1978, when the cardinals gathered in Rome for the conclave, but had been exchanging books since 1974.

Cardinal Ratzinger said there was an immediate "sympathy" between them.

In a book-length interview, "Salt of the Earth," he wrote of being attracted by John Paul's "uncomplicated, human frankness and openness, as well as the cordiality that he radiated" and his sense of humor. He also admired his "intellectual wealth" and appreciation of dialogue.

Mr. Weigel said that John Paul first asked Cardinal Ratzinger to take over the Congregation for Catholic Education, but the cardinal said no. The pope again asked him to come to Rome, when the prefecture at Doctrine of the Faith opened. This time, Cardinal Ratzinger agreed, with the assurance from the pope that he could continue to publish his own works.

In the 1990's, well before turning 75, the retirement age for curial officials, the cardinal offered his resignation to John Paul, apparently to spend more time on his own scholarship. John Paul persuaded him to stay, and soon after appointed him to the order of cardinal-bishop, the highest category of cardinal.

The ceremony in St. Peter's Square had the feeling of a torch-passing to some.

"The death of one pope is also a new beginning," said Alessandra De Paolo, 26. "We won't forget John Paul. He was tremendous."