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``Habemus Papam! We have a Pope!""
The last time I heard those words I was a teenager trying to find my place in the world and a place for faith in my life. That papal election some 27 years ago gave us the pontificate of John Paul II. Through his inspiration and teaching I found my life's work in religious education in the Catholic Church.
I was, like many others of my generation, looking for something to live for. We were tired of the ``I'm OK, you're OK'' philosophy of the early 70s. We were searching for timeless and certain truth. Perhaps we were looking for the firm and loving hand of a father not afraid to tell us what we needed to hear. I believe we found that father figure in John Paul II.
Then came the pope's long and slow illness that eventually led to his death. It was like losing someone close. Who could replace such a man? Would his work spreading the uncompromising message of the Gospel and his tireless efforts for unity of all believers take a backseat to a new set of objectives? We didn't know. All we could do was wait and trust in God to assist the College of Cardinals in making the right choice for this time in history.
Finally the waiting was over. It was historically the fastest papal election in modern history. It was swift and without the struggle that many of us had anticipated. When the name of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was announced, and he was introduced as Pope Benedict XVI, the youth-filled crowd in St. Peters plaza went wild. Cheers and screams of joy broke out along with spontaneous singing.
Once again it was the young Catholics who took center stage. It was almost like a repeat of a World Youth Day, inaugurated by John Paul II. The airlines were booked solid with college-age people from all parts of the globe coming to participate in this historic event. And they overwhelmingly approved the results of the conclave, and saw in this decision a clear link with the pontificate of John Paul II.
During the previous 27 years Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger served John Paul II as one of his closest friends and confidants. As prefect of the congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, it was his often thankless job to communicate and maintain the church's position in the areas of faith and morals. He also assisted John Paul II in selection of the governing body of the Roman Curia, similar to the selection of a president's cabinet.
It is interesting that just after the opening Mass of the conclave, rumors circulated that Cardinal Ratzinger had ruined any chance he may have had at being elected pope because of comments he made in his sermon during the Mass. He said, ``How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking ... the small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves -- thrown from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertarianism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects are created and what St. Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw those into error (Ephesians 4:14). Having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as `fundamentalism.' Whereby, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and `swept along by every wind of teaching,' looks like the only attitude acceptable by today's standards. We perhaps are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as certain and which has as its highest goal ones own ego and ones own desires.''
The results of that speech did not knock the cardinal out of the running, as pundits had surmised it might. Instead it appears Cardinal Ratzinger's comments struck a note of truth in the hearts of the electors, and perhaps more than anything else convinced them he was the right man for the job.
It is precisely this note of truth that had been struck over and over again by John Paul II, and apparently now is to be continued by his successor, Pope Benedict XVI. Young people long to hear it, and they admire those who have the courage to speak it. Objective reality exists, reality that is the same for all people in all times. There are universal truths and certainties in the realm of faith and morals. These truths are just as certain and real as the objective laws that dictate the practice of mathematics or science.
Will everyone receive this pontificate with the same enthusiasm? Of course not. There are those who see this election as a giant step backward. With modern society's divinization of individualism and pluralistic thought, that is to be expected. But I hope and pray that everyone will at least give Pope Benedict XVI the opportunity to show the world the gift that God intends him to be.
Dan J. Stevenson is director of faith formation for St. Monica Church.