April 26, 2005 in Nation/World

”Stern” pope reveals playful nature

Nicole Winfield Associated Press
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Pope Benedict XVI
(Full-size photo)

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI said Monday he felt as if a guillotine were coming down on him when it appeared he might be elected pontiff, saying he prayed to God to be spared, but “evidently, this time he didn’t listen to me.”

The pope’s playfulness during an audience with German pilgrims offered the first insight into what may have been going on in his mind during the secret conclave that elected him leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics.

It also underscored that the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – known as the stern German guardian of the Vatican’s conservative doctrine – has a sense of humor, knows how to work a crowd and seems to be winning fans.

“As the trend in the ballots slowly made me realize that, in a manner of speaking, the guillotine would fall on me, I started to feel quite dizzy,” the 78-year-old pope told his countrymen in his native German, smiling and chuckling. “I thought that I had done my life’s work and could now hope to live out my days in peace.

“I told the Lord with deep conviction, ‘Don’t do this to me. You have younger and better (candidates) who could take up this great task with a totally different energy and with different strength.’

“Evidently, this time he didn’t listen to me,” the pontiff joked.

Benedict XVI said that during the secret deliberations, a fellow cardinal wrote him a note, reminding him of the sermon he had delivered during the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II, in which he had referred to a biblical passage in which God tells the apostle Peter to follow him.

“My fellow brother wrote me: ‘If the Lord should now tell you, “Follow me,” then remember what you preached. Do not refuse. Be obedient.’ … This touched my heart. The ways of the Lord are not comfortable, but we were not created for comfort but for greatness, for good.

“So, in the end, all I could do was say ‘yes.’ I am trusting in God, and I am trusting in you, dear friends.”

Ratzinger was elected the first German pope in centuries last Tuesday after four rounds of voting – one of the fastest conclaves in 100 years. While he was a leading candidate going into the conclave, he generally was considered old to be elected pope.

Benedict XVI officially began his pontificate Sunday during a solemn installation Mass that drew about 400,000 people to the Vatican area, including many world and religious leaders.

The pope met Monday with the religious leaders who had attended and told Muslim representatives in particular that he wants to continue building “bridges of friendship” that, he said, could foster peace in the world.

The pope told ecumenical leaders he fully supports the need to work toward uniting Christians, saying their presence at his installation was a good sign.

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