New York Times
April 27, 2005
VATICAN CITY, April 27 - The regular rhythms of the Vatican began returning today as Pope Benedict XVI held the traditional Wednesday papal audience, using the occasion to express what may become a central theme of his papacy: the Christian roots of Europe.
Addressing thousands of pilgrims on a brilliant morning in St. Peter's Square, the new pontiff explained that he chose the name Benedict for several reasons, among them the role that St. Benedict of Norcia, the fifth century founder of the Benedictine order of monks, had on spreading Christianity in Europe.
"He represents a fundamental point of reference for the unity of Europe and a strong reminder of the unrenouncable Christian roots of its culture and civilization," the pope said in Italian, one of six languages he used today.
As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, his name before he was chosen pope last week, he wrote often of his worries that Europe had forgotten its Christian roots and thus was in danger of losing its identity and spiritual grounding. His choice, as a European cardinal and one who focused on the Catholic church's decline in Europe, has led to much speculation that he will push for a "re-evangelization" of Europe, though he has not yet announced any specific plan for doing so.
Benedict is significant, too, as one of the patron saints of Europe. Pope Benedict XVI said he also chose the name in recognition of Benedict XV, who worked to find peace during World War I. He called Benedict XV "that courageous prophet of peace, who guided the church through turbulent times of war."
"In his footsteps, I place my ministry in the service or reconciliation and harmony between peoples," the pope said.
Though liberal Catholics criticized Cardinal Ratzinger for opinions they called hard line and divisive, in his nine days as pope, Benedict has repeatedly reached out in his speeches to Jews, Muslims, Orthodox Christians and other branches of Christianity, emphasizing that his reign would be devoted to human unity.
In the months before Pope John Paul II died, the Wednesday audiences - prayers and greetings open to almost anyone - had virtually ended because of his fragile health and long hospital stays. Today, Pope Benedict announced that he would "start anew" the audiences after the "pious death of venerated predecessor, John Paul II."
Although he was not much in the public eye as Cardinal Ratzinger - and does not seem naturally comfortable being the center of attention - as pope, Benedict XVI has kept a grueling schedule of public events, and seems to be warming to the role.
As he did on Sunday, when he was formally installed as pope, Benedict toured St. Peter's Square today in his pope-mobile - again without protective glass, though surrounded by security guards. And as is customary in the audiences, he read out - to loud cheers - the towns and organizations of pilgrims in the crowd. Devotees today were from Mexico, Germany, France, Portugal, Poland, as well as large numbers of Italians..
The crowds, in return, seem to be warming to Benedict, and for all the affection for John Paul II, some pilgrims said it was refreshing to watch a pope who was healthy and meeting crowds of people.
"It's beautiful and really moving to see a pope among the people," said Elena Trivitera, 13, holding up a sign greeting the pope from her school in Sicily, whose members had traveled to Rome especially for the audience. "He is out getting to know us and we are getting to know him."
For the first time as pope, Benedict greeted people in Spanish, the main language in Latin America, where half the world's Roman Catholics live. He did not use Spanish on Saturday when he met with journalists from around the world. That omission irritated many reporters from Latin America, especially since they were already disappointed that a pope from their part of the world was not chosen by the conclave.
Today, Benedict also read the greetings in English, German, French, Italian and Polish - the native language of John Paul II.