BY CHRISTINA FARRELL
CARDINAL JOSEPH Ratzinger was this week presented to Rome and to the world as Pope Benedict XVI, the 265th successor to St Peter.
He has adopted the name of a patron saint of Europe and the Pope who led Catholics through the horrors of the First World War.
Vatican watchers had predicted that the man to follow John Paul II would also take his name, a mark of respect for the Polish Pontiff, but Cardinal Ratzinger had, in his inimitable style, other ideas.
There were signs, possibly, that Benedict would be his ideal nom de guerre. On April 1 this year, as John Paul II lay dying in the Apostolic Palace, the cardinal received the St Benedict Award for Promotion of Life and the Family in Europe, conferred by the Subiaco Foundation.
Benedict is apposite for a prelate who has declared war on the secularisation of Europe and who has battled for a return to orthodoxy in a sometimes wayward Church.
St Benedict was born in Rome of noble parents. As a student, disillusioned with the absence of discipline and the lackadaisical attitude of his fellow scholars, Benedict fled to the mountains and founded a monastery at Monte Cassino, where he wrote the Rule of his order, a judicious compromise between the practical and the ascetic.
Benedict’s Rule forbade individual property, but allowed monks to dress warmly and to sleep on beds with blankets and pillows.
He warned against idleness as the “enemy of the soul” and is revealed as a deeply holy man of peace and moderation who encouraged nothing “harsh or rigorous”.
Legend suggests that he had the ability to read consciences, to prophesy and to forestall attacks of the devil.
St Benedict’s uncompromising approach to the spiritual and the temporal has made him a favourite saint for the troubles of mankind. He is invoked against poisoning, witchcraft and nettle rash and is also the patron of people in religious orders, schoolchildren and servants who have broken their masters’ belongings.
He was declared a patron of Europe by Paul VI.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his previous incarnation as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had a reputation as a doctrinal enforcer; a man of high intellect and theological stamina.
The last Pope Benedict XV was a gentle man with renowned diplomatic talents who found his unique position as a religious emissary of peace ignored by the warring factions of World War II.
In 1920 he canonised St Joan of Arc – patron of France – and is credited with calming the excesses of a campaign against modernist scholars in the Church, perhaps indicating a more inclusive side to the new Pontiff.
In the mission territories Benedict XV urged the training of native priests to replace the European missionaries of old and this, in reverse, may reveal the new Pope’s hopes for the reevangelisation of Europe.
Seminaries in the west may be empty but the Third World is the new heartland of the Catholic Church.
In an interview given, appropriately, at the Abbey of St Benedict in Monte Cassino in 2000, the then Cardinal Ratzinger was questioned on the place of religion in modern society “tolerated, but merely as a subjective tool”.
His response may prove to be prescient of this pontificate. St Benedict, he said, was an outsider in Roman society, yet what he created “proved to be an ark of survival for western civilisation”.