Keeping faith

CARDINAL Joseph Ratzinger is the new Pope. The anointed leader of Christendom, who chooses to call himself Benedict XVI, may not have been the consensus choice of the 115 cardinals but he is the best they could come up with. The new choice underscores the Vatican’s need for someone who could be trusted with the leadership of the Christian world and steer it through the challenging years ahead.

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Published: Thu 21 Apr 2005, 11:17 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 6:28 PM

In picking up Benedict XVI, the cardinals have demonstrated a keenness to remain faithful to Pope John Paul II’s legacy and his no-nonsense approach to issues like sex, abortion, modernity and women’s role in Church etc. Contrary to speculation, they avoided being more adventurous in their choice of the new pope. All that talk of a non European pontiff from Latin America, Africa or Asia after all proved of little consequence. In the end, the cardinals settled for someone from the continent who shares John Paul II’s worldview.

Pope Benedict XVI is indeed a shadow of his predecessor. In his sermon before the cardinals’ conclave, he passionately defended the ‘fundamentals’ of faith. So by and large, the Catholic flock can expect the continuation of John Paul II’s powerful legacy. But can the new Pope follow in the footsteps of his late mentor with regard to relations with other faiths? The world would be particularly keen to see how Pope Benedict approaches ties with Islam, the other great Abrahamic religion whose followers outnumber the Catholics. Under John Paul II, relations between the two religions had been at their exemplary best. In fact, John Paul II was the first pope to reach out to Muslims. He created history by visiting the legendary Ummayad mosque in Damascus and went out of his way to heal the wounds of a shared past and clear the bitterness of the millennium long crusade against Muslims. He saw Christianity and Islam as allies in the war against communism and faithlessness. He attacked the US ‘war on terror’ and opposed its campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. No wonder Muslim world was saddened by John Paul II’s passing. Can Pope Benedict maintain the good ties with the followers of Islam? The question is pertinent as the two faiths will increasingly rub shoulders with each other in the years to come not only in Asia and Africa but in the heart of Europe where the numbers of Muslims are fast multiplying. At a time when the world is in dire need of better relations between the West and Muslim world, the Vatican can play a key role in helping the West-Islam dialogue. Is the new Pope up to the task?

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