Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Habemus Papam!"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the April 28, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

“Habemus Papam!” We have a Pope! Those are words that rang out over St. Peter’s Square and around the world.

The anticipation following the death of Pope John Paul II was high as we gazed at the logia in front of St. Peter Basilica. The white smoke and the ringing of bells signaled that the news was coming. Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was the choice of the cardinals who had sequestered themselves in conclave until they had fulfilled their task. The conclave was relatively short, perhaps an indication that most of the cardinals for months beforehand had considered the needs of the Church and the person who best meet those needs in the role of the new Pope.

The news first reached me after I celebrated Mass in  Assumption Church in Walla Walla April 19. Someone came up to say that white smoke had come from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. I heard the name announced as I drove homeward for a press conference at our Catholic Pastoral Center early in the afternoon. On the way, there were interviews by way of cell phone in my car. I was able to listen on satellite radio as events unfolded. It is a marvel to me, how modern technology has made the death and funeral of Pope John Paul II, and now the election of Benedict XVI, so present to the world.

Never in the history of the Church has there been so much publicity as that surrounding the events of these past three weeks. For most of us – some 60 percent of the world’s population – Pope John Paul II was the only pope people knew. He was the Church’s second-longest-reigning pope, in office during evolutionary and challenging times. He made over 100 pastoral visits to other countries. His accessibility to the world through media, and special events such as World Youth Day, made him a beloved figure not only in the Church but on the world scene as well.

Each pope has unique gifts to bring to the papal office. No one person has all the gifts. Certainly Pope John Paul II was a remarkably gifted pope. Pope Benedict XVI is also remarkably gifted. He has a keen theological intellect. For 20 years he has served as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – which, by the way, is no easy task. His humility and holiness of life now contribute to his unique role as the new Holy Father.

On the way home this morning, I listened to an interview with Cardinal Walter Kasper, a fellow countryman of the new pope and Prefect of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. Cardinal Kasper talked about the prejudice against Cardinal Ratzinger and his theological views. Pope John Paul II was unique in his person and contributions; so it will be for Benedict XVI. Though Popes John Paul and Benedict were close friends, they obviously are very different people, and each has his unique, personal contribution to make to the papacy.

Over the past several years, I have had the privilege of being in several meetings with the new pope. I have found him to be warm, listening, caring, supportive, and very insightful. He has a sense of humor. Even though he is 78 years of age, he has tremendous experience in the Church that can be an asset in many different ways.

Many interviewers asked me if, because of his age, Pope Benedict should be considered an interim pope. I would point out that many considered Blessed Pope John XXIII an interim pope, and yet he had a tremendous impact upon the Church. Pope John Paul I was pope for only 33 days, yet he most certainly left his mark. We bishops of Region XII had the honor of making an ad limina visit with him and were deeply touched by his charisma and presence. His quick smile captured the world.

Pope John Paul II strove to teach us how to live. He certainly taught us how to die. Now we enter into a new phase of Church life with Pope Benedict XVI. As a diocesan family, we congratulate him and offer him our love and prayers as he takes on this new responsibility of serving God’s people. The challenge has to be daunting, and yet he is willing to say “yes” to the call of the Church through the cardinal electors. May we continue to be present to him, our Holy Father, as all of us, together, journey in faith. May we appreciate the marvelous mystery that is our Church, always unfolding. Certainly the Holy Spirit will continue to be manifest in our midst.

Much peace and many blessings to all.

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