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Cardinal Napier on Faith, Justice and Benedict XVI

Interview With President of Southern African Bishops Conference

VATICAN CITY, MAY 23, 2005 (Zenit) - The president of the Southern African Bishops' Conference says the answer to solving the problems of the continent will have to come from within.

In this interview with Vatican Radio, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, 64, commented on the reaction of Africa to the election of Benedict XVI, and the prospects for a continent that is alive in faith, but plagued by war, poverty and political upheaval.

Q: From your dealings with Benedict XVI as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, what insights can you give us to the character, the man behind the new Pope?

Cardinal Napier: One of the interesting things is that in the past, the nearest dealings I've had with Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, would have been during the synods of bishops. I suppose, in typical African style, as he was one of the top cardinals, we left him, and them, to do the important business, while we went about the little business of giving reports on what was happening in our Churches.

So it was only really during the days of mourning, before the conclave, where one got to see just how the man operates on a very different level. He led the Mass excellently, I thought, at the funeral of the Pope and then, us, the general congregations, as the dean of the College of Cardinals.

He really responded very quickly to any requests or suggestions that were made about how we should actually be handling those congregations.

And I think possibly one of the greatest compliments I heard came from a fellow cardinal after the conclave Mass on Monday who said: "That must have been the most spiritual experience I've had for a long time." It was because of Cardinal Ratzinger's wonderful, gentle, approachable style, I would say.

And I think that during the election, the way he conducted himself was commendable. His name was obviously in the running, but when it was necessary, he got up and read out from the constitution what the next step was going to be, so everyone would have it clear.

I thought it was excellent the way he did it -- he sort of distanced himself from it as if to say -- "I'm doing my job, it's not me, it's just the job that I must do."

Q: Respecting your vow of secrecy, can you tell us anything at all about the atmosphere inside the conclave when Cardinal Ratzinger's name was announced, and was it clear that he had the majority needed?

Cardinal Napier: Someone else asked me a similar question: "What was it like? Were you conscious of the divine or the human?" In response I would say that both were there.

The human was there, and I say that after having sat on many Church electing bodies where you write out a name on a ballot and put it in the ballot box.

But this time it was different. Each time a session began, you went up and called on Jesus Christ to be your witness saying that this is the person I consider to be worthy of election. This brought a very serious element into it, and even though you might have been chatting away while you were waiting for your turn, when you got up there you became very conscious of this element.

When it became clear that the two-thirds majority had been reached, there was spontaneous applause. When it came time to offer our congratulations and pledges of loyalty and support, it was truly touching to see how different people approached the new Pope with sincerity, as well as the sincerity of the Benedict XVI when responding.

This was remarkable -- it was a mixture of humility and conscientiousness of the seriousness of the task that had been just placed upon his shoulders.

Q: You're well aware that before the conclave, many people had hoped, or thought that the time was right, for a new pope to come from the South -- from the developing countries -- where the majority of Catholics are now concentrated. What's your reaction to that?

Cardinal Napier: I think there were two elements that had people voicing that desire. One was that the central balance of gravity has certainly shifted to the South where there are a greater number of Catholics. And I think the second element is the vibrancy of the faith there, as well as the fact that particularly in Africa and South America we still practice the art of celebration.

This is when one expresses what one believes. You don't just simply say it with your mouth, and have it in your mind; rather you actually physically express it.

These, I believe, were two elements that made people believe that perhaps a Pope from the South would be able to generate the same kind of a response in Europe and the West in general.

But, I'm not so sure that there was a realistic expectation that somebody from the South would really ...

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