New pope inherits tremendous task

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 17, 2005

New Pope Benedict XVI greeted cheering crowds in St. Peter’s Square with a big smile Tuesday, calling himself a &uot;simple, humble worker.&uot;

But the new pontiff, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, inherits an awesome responsibility.

Not only must he follow one of the most popular, charismatic popes, he must also face a number of challenges for the Catholic Church worldwide.

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Continued dialogue with Islam, a shortage of priests in America and the disparity between the explosion of Catholicism in Latin America and the east versus the growing apathy of western Catholics.

After a pope is chosen by the College of Cardinals, he enters a room traditionally known as the &uot;Hall of Tears.&uot; There, alone, he gathers his thoughts before addressing the people for the first time.

Tradition holds that the room is informally known as the Hall of Tears because the incredible responsibility of leading the world’s Catholics is such an overwhelming consideration and does move many to tears.

Pope Benedict asked for the people’s prayers as he takes on this responsibility. At the age of 78, he is the oldest pope elected since the 18th century, a clear sign the cardinals wanted a &uot;transitional&uot; pope after John Paul II’s long and popular papacy.

But the new pope is very much like his predecessor in his conservatism; indeed, Cardinal Ratzinger was a close adviser for John Paul II. How that will affect the church in the future remains to be seen.

The death and funeral of John Paul and now the election of a new pope has garnered the attention of the world &045; and not just the world’s Catholics. Pope John Paul, a Pole who many credit with helping to foster the fall of communism, showed that the papacy had tremendous influence outside the church even in this modern world, and his reaching out to other religions, including Jews and Muslims, made him unique.

Pope Benedict may not face the same challenges, but the issues he faces are equally challenging. And, indeed, our prayers are with him.