Dearly beloved brothers and sisters in the Risen Lord! These words were pronounced on the 19th of April, 2005, from the balcony of the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, signifying to the city and to the world that after the death of the great Pontiff John Paul II a new head of the Universal Church had been chosen.
2. Two years ago John Paul II wrote in his book, “Roman Triptych,” the following words: “I am calling you, Michaelangelo: in the Vatican a chapel awaits the fruition of your vision! (…) In the Sistine Chapel the artist depicted the Last Judgment, [which] completely dominates the interior. (…) It is here beneath this wondrous Sistine profusion of color that the Cardinals assemble – the community responsible for the legacy of the keys of the Kingdom… The colors of the Sistine will then speak the Word of the Lord: ‘Tu es Petrus’ – once heard by Simon, son of John. ‘To you I will give the keys of the Kingdom.’ Those entrusted with the legacy of the keys gather here, letting themselves be enfolded by the Sistine’s colors, by the vision left to us by Michaelangelo – so it was in August and again in October in the memorable year of the two conclaves, and so it will be once more, when the time comes, after my death. (…) ‘Con-clave’: a shared concern for the legacy of the key, the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. (...) Lo, they see themselves in the midst of the Beginning and the End, between the Day of Creation and the Day of Judgment… (…) The clarity of events – the clarity of consciences – during the conclave Michaelangelo must reach them – do not forget: ‘Omnia nuda et aperta sunt ante oculos Eius’ (All things are naked and open before His eyes). You, Who see all, point to him! And He will point him out….” (The Poetry of John Paul II: Roman Triptych, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2003, pp 23-25).
3. And He, the Lord, truly pointed him out. On the 18th of April at six-thirty in the evening by Moscow time, the world began to look with bated breath toward the sky above the Sistine Chapel: is smoke rising from the famous chimney, and, if so, what color is it? This small chimney pipe was the only link between the cardinal-electors and the outside world.
And then, the first news. On the same day at 10:04 pm by Moscow time, the major television channels of the world interrupted their programming. On the lips of the announcers was one word only: “Smoke!” At first it seemed white. Could it be that by some miracle a new Pope was chosen on the first round of voting? No, indeed. Soon enough it became clear that the smoke was black. The bells kept their silence. This could only mean that the cardinals still had to seek to find out the choice of the Holy Spirit. All must wait.
The people waited and prayed. Not only Catholics. The whole world waited. One round of voting followed another. And finally, on April 19th at ten minutes to eight in the evening by Moscow time, from that chimney of the Sistine Chapel began to rise white smoke, truly white smoke. The bells of the Basilica of St. Peter rang in confirmation. There could be no doubt: a new Pope had been elected. A new Pontificate had begun.
Who is he, the new leader of the greatest part of the world’s Christian believers? This question was in the heart of all the people now crowding St. Peter’s Square to the limit. This question was asked throughout the globe. Time seemed to creep. And then at last upon the balcony of the basilica appeared the Chilean Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, who annoucned with all solemnity: “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: habemus Papam!” – “I announce to you joyful news: we have a Pope!”. “He is the Most Reverend Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who has chosen for himself the name – Benedict XVI”. The square burst into applause.
Joseph Ratzinger, well-known by all, is frequently referred to as the “bulwark of the defense of the faith.” It is he, whom the Lord has pointed out as the leading priest of the Universal Church, who must take over the helm of the barque of the Church from John Paul II, who tamed the world with his charism of openness, and steer her into a new era.
Orphaned by the death of John Paul II, the Church, after a short period of indefiniteness, has awoken to new life, for having chosen her visible leader, she has chosen the Peter for our times. Christ, living in the Church, indicated him, who has become the 264th successor of the apostle Peter. On this historic day, so significant for the Church, through the voice of the cardinals of the conclave, Christ repeats the words once addressed to the prince of Apostles: “Feed my sheep” (Jn. 21.17).
As on the days of the parting with John Paul II, so on the days of the conclave, the Universal Church again demonstrated to the world her unity and cohesion. The college of cardinal-electors, consisting of representatives of fifty-two nations, inspired by the Holy Spirit and taking upon themselves the responsibility for the church, chose a Pontiff quickly, thus indicating the unity of the princes of the Church. All this means new joy and new hope both for the Catholic Church and for the world, which expects from her an example of spiritual unity.
4. The Pope, being bishop of Rome, is the successor of the apostle Peter to whom Christ said: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. I will entrust to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you declare loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt. 16:18-19) In these words are contained the charism of the primacy of Peter, a special vocation both for Peter himself and for his successors in the Church of Christ. Although Peter three times denied his Master, nonetheless, Christ after His resurrection confirmed the service entrusted to him. Jesus three times asked Peter: ‘Do you love me?’ After three times receiving a positive reply, Jesus confirmed Peter as the leading priest of the flock (cf. Jn. 21.15-17).
In fulfilling this charge, Peter, the first among the apostles, came from Jerusalem to Rome and became its first bishop. After him followed a line of his successors.
The Holy Spirit, by means of the decision of the cardinal-electors, has indicated the man who after the death of John Paul II is to take upon himself the ministry of Peter. The newly elected Benedict XVI has become the 265th bishop of the Eternal City, the Vicar of Christ and the head of the Universal Church. In him is found the ministry entrusted to the apostle Peter by the Savior. For this reason, the Pontiff enjoys in the Church supreme, full, immediate, ordinary power (cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 331).
5. The election of a new pope is always a significant event for the whole church. She remains in prayer to obtain a worthy and capable Pontiff. After the election, the Church receives her new head in a spirit of faith, love, respect, and joy; she receives him as a new gift for the Church and the world in our difficult times, so filled with dangers and challenges.
Last Saturday the newly elected Pope turned seventy-eight years old. He is, in his own right, one of the most authoritative theologians in the Catholic Church.
The future Pope was ordained a priest on June 29th, 1951. On March 24th, 1977, he became the Archbishop of Munich, and in June of the same year Pope Paul VI raised him to the dignity of the rank of cardinal.
On November 25th, 1981, Pope John Paul II appointed Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Russian editions of his books “Introduction to Christianity” and “Living Stones” enjoy great popularity. The new Pope is known for his ability to expound complicated aspects of the Christian faith in a popular and accessible way. He is a man of high culture who speaks in more than a half dozen languages.
The reaction of the whole world to the death of the late Pontiff, the great interest in the conclave, and the joyful and enthusiastic welcome of the new Pope indicate that the world has a great need for the Church, especially for her moral authority. This is, in turn, a timely task for the Church, which must do all possible to answer the problems and respond to the challenges of modernity, thus meeting the expectations of all.
Today’s Church must provide an antidote to the corrupting influence of relativism and secularism. For this reason all of us, members of the Church of Christ, the People of God under the guidace of a new Pontiff, answering the challenge of the times, must seek to create a new and just world founded upon the principles of the Gospel; we must build a civilization of love and life, striving for human and Christian unity, the servant of which is the successor of the holy apostle Peter.
The Catholics of Russia welcome the choice of the new Pope with gratitude to God and great hope, considering him a great gift. They express to him their respect and obedience, seeing in him a good shepherd, who will lead them into a new era, who will care for them, protecting the “little flock” that waits to greet him on Russian soil, so that the treasured dream of the predecessor of Benedict XVI, John Paul II will be fulfilled.
6. Grateful to God for the long and fruitful ministry in the Church of the deceased Pope John Paul II, we must constantly support the new Pontiff Benedict XVI with our prayers. It is our holy duty, for he is our father. We call the Pope “Holy Father” emphasizing our filial devotion to him.
Without doubt, he who takes upon his shoulders the mission of the ministry of Peter and responsibility for the Church, takes upon himself a heavy cross. Let us never forget that it is our cross, too, the cross of the Catholic Church in Russia.
At such a momentous time for the Universal Church and for the Church in Russia as the beginning of a new Pontificate, I turn to you, dear brothers and sisters, with this appeal: by your prayers, by your good works and enterprises, by the high moral quality of your lives and your good Christian example, be always beside the Pope from the beginning of his ministry, for the cross which he humbly agreed to carry belongs to the mystery of salvation, accomplished in Christ and given to us.
Blessed Virgin Mary, patroness of the Church and the Russian land! On our behalf beseech your Son to grant special grace to our new Pope Benedict XVI, so that he may strengthen our faith and Christian identity, teach us to found the future on moral principles, impart to us new hope, and increase in us love of neighbor. Enable him to protect human rights and especially the right to religious freedom and the right to life, to fight for social justice, to bolster peace and mutual understanding between peoples. May he develop the dialogue among Christians and with other faiths, set the foundations of a civilization of love, and inspire the Church to be ever more open to the world and ready to respond to the challenges of the day.
Lord Jesus, having called your servant, Benedict XVI, to the ministry of Peter in our times, we beg you: bless him, give him the physical and spiritual strength, necessary to worthily fulfill the mission entrusted to him, and be his joy in trials. Grant that his apostolic labors bring as many fruits as possible, help him always, and preserve him for many years to come.
With my blessing,
Metropolitan Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz
1. The priests are respectfully requested to read this appeal to the faithful on 24 April 2005 and to offer the Holy Mass for the Holy Father Benedict XVI.
2. On April 23rd, in Moscow’s cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at 7 pm a Mass of Thanksgiving on the occasion of the election of the new Pontiff, Benedict XVI, will take place.