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The Real Benedict XVI

4/24/2005 - 6:00 AM PST

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Reports Reveal Warmth and Openness

ROME, APRIL 24, 2005 (Zenit) - Some media reports following the announcement of the new Pope rolled out ready-made stereotypes of the man, portraying him as an inflexible authoritarian. Other reports, especially in the British media, were obsessed by the idea of a German Pope who had lived his teen years under the Nazi regime.

However, a number of personal testimonies published this week reveal an entirely different personality. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, now archbishop of Genoa, Italy, was for many years second-in-charge to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Italian prelate was interviewed Thursday by the newspaper Il Messaggero.

The archbishop spoke of a man of "great humanity, a lover of nature and of music." Cardinal Bertone also testified to Cardinal Ratzinger's openness and simplicity in dealing with people, and how over the years in Rome he has formed friendships with many people.

Monsignor Alejandro Cifres, chief archivist for 14 years in the doctrinal congregation, in articles published by the Spanish daily ABC on Thursday and Friday also gave testimony concerning the new Pope.

When he first came to Rome in 1981 to take up his post as prefect of the congregation he did not even take possession of the apartment that would normally be his by right, as it was occupied by an elderly cardinal, whom he did not wish to disturb. The apartment in which Cardinal Ratzinger has remained in all these years in Rome, is not one as large or well-appointed as would normally correspond to his post, and is adorned with secondhand furniture. It is also located on the other side of St. Peter's Square from his office, instead of being in the same building.

Monsignor Cifres commented that during his years of working at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, it was Cardinal Ratzinger who gave the staff an example of dedication, rising early and going to bed late so as to deal expeditiously with the important matters that required attention.

Moreover, Monsignor Cifres explained that Cardinal Ratzinger on numerous occasions had asked Pope John Paul II to be allowed to leave his post and return to his theological studies. He repeated that desire to his staff on his 78th birthday, just two days before the conclave started.

Along Borgo Pio

Friday's edition of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica published a number of commentaries from shop-owners along the street close by where Cardinal Ratzinger lived for some 24 years, Borgo Pio.

In the afternoons the future Pope would often go out for a walk along the streets near his apartment and would stop to greet the shopkeepers along the Borgo Pio. Mario, a fruit-seller, recalled how once the cardinal asked him which apples to buy to best prepare a strudel. And electrician Angelo Mosca spoke of the time he had gone to the cardinal’s apartment to fix a problem, and how he had remained in a relaxed conversation with him for an hour, "just as if we were old friends."

British journalist Charles Moore, writing in Wednesday's Telegraph, described a meeting with Cardinal Ratzinger some years ago. Three things impressed Moore about the prelate. First, "his embarrassing courtesy." Moore recounted how the cardinal carefully read an article he had brought with him in which the journalist described his conversion to Catholicism.

The second striking point was Cardinal Ratzinger's intellectual curiosity: "He was not a man living in the past, but rather one tackling with a civilized and clear mind the new challenges of human thought." The third characteristic was the cardinal's open manner and willingness to answer any question put to him.

And another journalist, David Quinn, writing in Tuesday's Irish Independent, described a meeting with Cardinal Ratzinger some 10 years ago. The cardinal dedicated an hour to his questions. "During that time he was courtesy itself, entirely gracious and patient with my questions," said Quinn.

Remembering a birthday

U.S. cardinals also recalled the new Pope's affability, noted an Associated Press report Wednesday. Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali said that in the midst of the excitement during the conclave after the ballots were tallied, Benedict XVI took the time to wish him a happy birthday. "With all the things he had to think about, he had the very human touch," said Cardinal Rigali.

And the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Edward Egan, recalled how some years ago Cardinal Ratzinger took the time to personally wish him well before he became an archbishop. "'He is a very lovely and loving person," Cardinal Egan said. "I think you're going to like him very much."

This opinion was echoed by Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney, who for ...

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