or many people, as far as religion is concerned, the most pivotal moment of 2006 has been the Holy Father's lectio ntagistralis at the University of Regensburg on September 12th.
The depth, relevance and impact of that historic lecture continue to resonate around the world, provoking a muchneeded examination of two of the most pressing contemporary problems: the loss of faith and reason in the West, and how to deal with the problem of irrational faith.
—The Pope demonstrated at Regensburg that popes can do things that no one else in the world can do," says papal biographer George Weigel. "They can intelligently put issues on the world agenda that identify their true and moral significance in a way that everyone has to pay attention."
Three months later, debate still continues as to whether the Holy Father was aware of what the consequences might be following what has been termed "The Regensburg Moment". For those who know him, such as George Weigel, to suggest a man of the Pope's intellectual ability was unaware is "absurd".
Certainly, it is doubtful the Pope's visit to Turkey would have been so successful were it not for the hard questions he posed in Regensburg. Armed with humility and innocence and the spontaneity of powerful gestures of goodwill, he was able to bring healing and reconciliation. At the same time, he advanced the cause of religious freedom, significantly raised hopes of unity with the Orthodox church and cleverly removed himself from politically sensitive issues.
Benedict XVI's simple, humble and even innocent approach — so evident in Turkey and much in tune with his acclaimed first encyclical published in January, Dens Caritas Est (God is Love) — has been consistent throughout this year.
Those qualities were present in his moving and momentous visit to Auschwitz and, although some criticised the German Pope for missing an opportunity to condemn antiSemitism, his choice of words and the depth of his speech were, for some, the highlight of the year.
"It was an extraordinary speech, rich in theology, spirituality and personal testimony to the horrors that took place," says moral theology professor and a former doctoral student of Professor Joseph Ratzinger, Vincent Twomey.
Elsewhere, the Pope has continued to put his stamp on the Roman Curia. He appointed his old friend Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone as Secretary of State, and, in a move which reflected his own deeply held belief that religion and culture are closely related, he made Cardinal Paul Poupard president of both the Pontifical Councils for Culture and Interreligious Dialogue.
Some complain that the pace of Curial reform is to too slow, but his friends knew he would take his time.
"He doesn't believe in revolutions," says Prof Twomey. "He accepts the imperfections of society and the Church, so his changes are gradual."
Yet the Pope has not hesitated in frequently landing surprises on the faithful. Despite the risk of upsetting Beijing, he made Archbishop Joseph Zen of llong Kong a cardinal; he appointed Cardinal Claudio Hummes, a onetime supporter of liberation theology, as prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy; he stripped the saintly founder of the Legionaries of Christ of his priestly duties over allegations of sexual abuse and he removed the papal title 'Patriarch of the West', risking possible friction with the Orthodox church.
But perhaps most surprising of all is that, through his humility and the strength of his intellect, Benedict has been able to practically silence his old adversaries: Church progressives.
Benedict XVI seems reckless at times, but in essence he is courageously spreading the Gospel, not performing to the gallery but working in obedience to truth. And all the time he is trying to draw attention not to himself but to Jesus Christ. In the year in which his eagerly anticipated hook on Jesus is published, expect more of the same in 2007.