Papal election milestone: taking stock

2012-04-18 Vatican Radio

"A simple humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord." Those were the modest words Pope Benedict used to describe himself in his first public speech following his election to the papacy 7 years ago this week. Those much-quoted remarks helped in some ways to set the tone for Pope Benedict’s reign. So what exactly do they reveal about the man who became the 256th Pontiff on that April day in 2005?

One person who knows Pope Benedict well is Father Joseph Fessio, a former theology student of Josef Ratzinger when he taught at the university of Regensburg in Germany. Father Fessio is now the editor of Ignatius Press that has published the English translation of almost all of Josef Ratzinger's books.

Asked about the personality of the Pope, Father Fessio says "he was a wonderful teacher, very kind, very intelligent... with an ironic sense of humour... .we all loved him." Father Fessio also has high words of praise for the Pope's skills as a theologian: He's not simply "one of history's great theologians, he's really a creative and original theologian"... somebody who "always finds a new insight, a new idea that will inspire you." When it comes to the main priorities of the Pope, Father Fessio says that the theme of new evangelisation, especially for Europe, "is a key motive of his papacy and that's why he took the name Benedict."

John Allen is the author of several books on the Catholic Church and one of the world’s best known commentators on Vatican and Church affairs. He works as the senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter in the U.S.

He says Pope Benedict confounded expectations of what he would be like at the time of his election: ..."the popular stereotype painted Josef Ratzinger as a strong, stern ,authoritarian figure, God's Rotweiller... instead he revealed himself to be a gentle, mild figure."

Allen says that Benedict "sees himself as a teaching Pope" and when asked about the highlights of his papacy, points to many of his foreign trips such as those to the US and the UK which turned out to be "pastoral and communication triumphs" and his three encyclicals which he predicts will "still be read by thinking Catholics" in centuries to come."

Listen to this programme by Susy Hodges with both the above interviews: