Vatican City Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, the Roman Catholic Church's leading hard-liner, was elected the new Pope Tuesday in the first conclave of the new millennium. He chose the name Benedict XVI and called himself “a simple, humble worker.”
Benedict XVI, the first German pope in centuries, emerged onto the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, where he waved to a wildly cheering crowd of tens of thousands and gave his first blessing. Other cardinals clad in their crimson robes came out on other balconies to watch him after one of the fastest papal conclaves of the past century.
“Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me — a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord,” he said after being introduced by Chilean Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estivez.
“The fact that the Lord can work and act even with insufficient means consoles me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers,” the new Pope said. “I entrust myself to your prayers.”
The crowd responded to the 265th pope by chanting “Benedict! Benedict!”
If the new Pope was paying tribute to the last pontiff of that name, it could be interpreted as a bid to soften his image as the Vatican's doctrinal hard-liner.
Benedict XV, who reigned from 1914 to 1922, was a moderate following Pius X, who had implemented a sharp crackdown against doctrinal “modernism.” He reigned during the First World War and was credited with settling animosity between traditionalists and modernists, and dreamed of reunion with Orthodox Christians.
Benedict, which comes from the Latin for “blessing,” is one of a number of papal names of holy origin such as Clement (“mercy”), Innocent (“hopeful” as well as “innocent”) and Pius (“pious”).
Benedict XVI turned 78 on Saturday. His age clearly was a factor among cardinals who favoured a “transitional” pope who could skillfully lead the church as it absorbs John Paul II's legacy, rather than a younger cardinal who could wind up with another long pontificate.
The new Pope is the oldest elected since Clement XII, who was chosen in 1730 at 78 but was three months older than Cardinal Ratzinger.
The last pope from a German-speaking land was Victor II, bishop of Eichstatt, who reigned from 1055-57.
On Monday, Cardinal Ratzinger, who was the powerful dean of the College of Cardinals, used his homily at the Mass dedicated to electing the next pope to warn the faithful about tendencies that he considered dangers to the faith: sects, ideologies like Marxism, liberalism, atheism, agnosticism and relativism — the ideology that there are no absolute truths.
“Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labelled today as a fundamentalism,” he said, speaking in Italian. “Whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and ‘swept along by every wind of teaching,' looks like the only attitude acceptable to today's standards.
Cardinal Ratzinger served John Paul II since 1981 as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In that position, he disciplined church dissidents and upheld church policy against attempts by liberals for reforms.
He had gone into the conclave with the most buzz among two dozen leading candidates. He had impressed many faithful with his stirring homily at the funeral of John Paul II, who died April 2 at age 84.
White smoke poured from the Sistine Chapel and bells tolled earlier to announce the conclave had produced a pope. Flag-waving pilgrims in St. Peter's Square chanted: “ Viva il Papa!” or “Long live the pope!”
The bells rang after a confusing smoke signal that Vatican Radio initially suggested was black but then declared was too difficult to call. White smoke is used to announce a pope's election to the world.
It was one of the fastest elections in the past century: Pope Pius XII was elected in 1939 in three ballots over two days, while Pope John Paul I was elected in 1978 in four ballots in one day. The new Pope was elected after either four or five ballots over two days.
“It's only been 24 hours, surprising how fast he was elected,” Vatican Radio said.
After the smoke appeared, pilgrims poured into the square, their eyes fixed on the burgundy-draped balcony. Pilgrims said the rosary as they awaited the name of the new pope and prelates stood on the roof of the Apostolic Palace, watching as the crowd nearly doubled in size.
Niels Hendrich, a 40-year-old salesman from Hamburg, Germany, jumped up and down with joy and called his father on a cellphone. “ Habemus papam!” he shouted into the phone, using the Latin for: “We have a pope.”
In the Pope's hometown of Traunstein, Germany, a room full of 13-year-old boys at St. Michael's Seminary that Benedict XVI attended jumped up and down, cheered and clapped as the news was announced.
“It's fantastic that it's Cardinal Ratzinger. I met him when he was here before and I found him really nice,” said Lorenz Gradl, 16, who was confirmed by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2003.
Antoinette Hastings, from Kent Island, Md., rose from her wheelchair, grasping her hands together and crying. She has artificial knees, making it tough to stand.
“I feel blessed, absolutely blessed,” she said. “I just wish the rest of my family were here to experience this with me.”
After the bells started to ring, people on the streets of Rome immediately headed from all directions toward Vatican City. Some priests and seminarians in clerical garb were running. Nuns pulled up their long skirts and jogged toward the Vatican. Drivers were honking horns and some people were closing stores early and joining the crowds.
Police immediately tried to direct traffic but to little effect.
Benedict XVI succeeds a pope who gained extraordinary popularity over a 26-year pontificate, history's third-longest papacy. Millions mourned him around the world in a tribute to his charisma.
Cardinals had faced a choice over whether to seek an older, skilled administrator who could serve as a “transitional” pope while the church absorbs John Paul's legacy, or a younger dynamic pastor and communicator — perhaps from Latin America or elsewhere in the developing world where the church is growing.
While John Paul, a Pole, was elected to challenge the communist system in place in eastern Europe in 1978, Benedict XVI faces new issues: the need for dialogue with Islam, the divisions between the wealthy north and the poor south as well as problems within his own church.
These include the priest sex-abuse scandals that have cost the church millions in settlements in the United States and elsewhere; coping with a chronic shortage of priests and nuns in the West; and halting the stream of people leaving a church indifferent to teachings they no longer find relevant.
Under John Paul, the church's central authority grew, often to dismay of bishops and rank-and-file Catholics around the world.
Pope John XXIII was 77 when he was elected pope in 1958 and viewed as a transitional figure, but he called the Second Vatican Council that revolutionized the church from within and opened up its dialogue with non-Catholics.
Benedict XVI will have to decide whether to keep up the kind of foreign travel that was a hallmark of John Paul's papacy, with his 104 pilgrimages abroad.