New era for Catholics as German conservative becomes Pope
VATICAN CITY, Wednesday (AFP) The Roman Catholic Church entered a new
era Wednesday after cardinals picked German conservative Joseph
Ratzinger to guide its 1.1 billion followers, drawing praise around the
world but also criticism from many quarters. The 78-year-old cardinal,
the Vatican's doctrinal enforcer under John Paul II, will take the name
Benedict XVI and will be inaugurated Sunday.
Church bells rang across Rome and in many countries around the world
as the news emerged, while state leaders - some of whom had attended
John Paul II's funeral 11 days earlier - were quick to congratulate him.
As spiritual leader of a 2,000-year-old faith, the new Pope faces a
heavy burden to revive a Church riven by turmoil and disaffection and
losing numbers in an increasingly secular age.
In the immediate future though, he was to celebrate his first mass as
Pope early Wednesday in the Sistine Chapel, in a private ceremony for
his cardinal colleagues. It was they who, in the same fresco-adorned
chamber, Tuesday elected him as Pope on the second day of their secret
conclave, one of the fastest in modern times.
An ecstatic crowd of nearly 200,000 cheered and waved wildly as
Ratzinger, the 265th pontiff in the Church's history, smiled and waved
to acknowledge the applause from the curtain-draped balcony of Saint
His first words were met by a huge ovation. "Dear brothers and
sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II the cardinals have elected me
a simple and humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord," he said,
referring to his immediate predecessor.
"Let us go forward, the Lord will help us, and Mary, his most holy
Mother, is on our side."
The announcement that a new Pope had been elected came from the
traditional white smoke billowing out of a chimney atop the Sistine
It sent the crowds on St Peter's Square into raptures, but because it
also appeared at times grey, there was an agonizing wait of over 10
minutes before pealing bells confirmed the news.
Congratulations poured in from around the world but there was much
dissent too, with many activists dismayed by his conservative views on
issues ranging from sexual morality to the ordination of women.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany called it "a great honour"
for the country and said Benedict XVI was "a worthy successor" to John
US President George W. Bush, who clashed with John Paul II over the
US-led war on Iraq but shared many of his conservative values on other
issues, said Ratzinger was a man of "great wisdom and knowledge."
UN chief Kofi Annan added his support, Israel said it hoped he would
forge closer ties between Jews and Catholics and British Prime Minister
Tony Blair said he looked forward to working with the new pope on issues
including Africa and international development.
But China called on the new pontiff to break ties with Taiwan and
stay out of the communist country's internal affairs to create the
conditions for better Sino-Vatican relations.
Even in Communist Cuba, bells tolled across the country.
In Asia, however, Ratzinger's election is likely to be a good fit for
the continent's largely conservative Catholic populations, analysts
said. The iron-clad birth control policies promoted by John Paul II were
embraced wholeheartedly by the Church in the Philippines, which has one
of the highest birth rates in Asia and tens of millions living in
In Africa too, despite criticism of the Vatican's strong opposition
to the use of condoms, the Church held staunchly conservative views.
"We have things to conserve.
We have to protect the Catholic heritage from harm ... by promoting
the value of life," said Father Felix Ajakaye, spokesman for the
Catholic Church in Nigeria.