Wednesday, April 19, 2006

i'm a sucker for the quiet, intellectual types

"Well," I said.

"Well," she said.

My mom and I don't need many words to understand each other. I could hear the raised eyebrows in her voice, the resignation mixed with a "Whatever..." feistiness that I'm sure can be traced back to our independent pioneer ancestors. It was one year ago today, and I'd called her up from my office moments after the news of the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI had made its way out of St. Peter's Square and around the world. At that time, Joseph Ratzinger was a name many of my friends and most of my family associated with hard-nosed crackdowns and excessive doctrinal demands — the bulldog of dogma, as it were. Certainly not the man I — or my mom —would have hoped to replace John Paul II.

But the man has surprised me. Over time, I have grown to like him, and I hope I meet him someday. I like him despite any disagreements I might have with the church. I like him the way I like people whose intelligence and thoughtfulness earn my respect, even if I don't agree with them. I like that he actually seems to enjoy being out from under the mantle of his old job — that he can show himself in a fuller, more human light. I like the fact that one of his closest confidants is a lay woman, his "housekeeper," Ingrid Stampa. I like his shy, intellectual manner. I like that he talks to children. I like his thick, white hair. I like that he seems to be more conciliatory than disciplinarian when dealing with diverse views in the church. I like the fact that he met with dissident Hans K√ľng for a friendly dinner. I like that he wrote his first encyclical about love. I like that he listens to people and responds to their questions off the cuff with simple answers that nonetheless reflect the depth of his intelligence.

I know I'm not the only one who's been surprised by the way Benedict has bloomed in his new role in the past year. I also know that he hasn't won over every American Catholic, especially those who are suspicious of the Vatican and disdainful of its pronouncements on various issues they hold dear. That doesn't change the way I feel. Sunday — Easter Sunday — was his 79th birthday. I hope he'll be around for a few more.


Susanne said...

Hey Em, I remember that day well. We were listening to the daily 9am BBC newsbreak on the classical station, and they interrupted with a special bulletin saying the smoke was white! And like you, I called Mom. In fact, I think she had just got off the phone with you. I remember feeling like although he's very conservative, he was the best man for the job, especially considering how difficult it would be to follow a man like John Paul II.

Liz P. said...

I find this very interesting. I remember watching the Pope proceedings with great interest and hoping that they wouldn't pick him. I was worried for many of the same reasons you probably were.

It is nice to know that you feel like he's doing a good job. I don't have the knowledge to answer that well, but I'm glad to see that there is a warmth to him.

Christina said...

Emilie, my shift in feelings over the past year reflects yours so closely! Well said. I had all the same concerns (disappointment, even) last April 19 but I feel like Cardinal Ratzinger has softened into Pope Benedict XVI, a smiling, caring leader & a good listener.

I've been lucky to see him twice in his first year of papacy -- World Youth Day in August and then during a papal audience in February. Both times I was struck by what a scholar he is. I love when he puts on his reading glasses and shares his insight. Both times he reflected on the virtue of humility with a palpable humility of his own.

I haven't told you yet, Emilie, but I actually had the thrill of shaking Pope Benedict's hand in February (!). There was a look of pure kindness in his eyes -- a glow -- that brought me to tears. One year after his election, I now know him as a gentle, humble man.