Pope Benedict XVI is a well educated and reflective priest-theologian, curial prefect and now universal pastor who never comes by his positions without very serious reasons, constantly striving to make the patrimony of the church’s teaching speak to the problems of the modern world. Oftentimes he takes what begins as a controversial position that is not necessarily germane to the topic at first sight, one that leads after controversy to bear great fruit for whatever may be in dialogue at the time.
I am thinking at this writing of the reference in his famous address at the University of Regensburg in Germany. He made a comment and quoted a statement from a scholar or churchman in the Middle Ages who spoke of the influence of Islam which ignited controversy with Islamic scholars and religious leaders around the world. That one conversation and the dialogue which has ensued have led to great interchange in dialogue between Muslims, Catholics and other Christians around the world.
Greater mutual respect and understanding have grown greatly since that address just a few short years ago. Now with that dialogue having taken place, he has been able to enter into Muslim territories and shrines of the Old Testament in Jordan, for example Mt. Nebo, with easy access and conversation provided by those many people who are trying to build peace among the three major monotheistic religions.
His task was very complicated: to listen to all parties, to remind them that there must be a connection between faith and reason, to strongly uphold the value and dignity of the human person no matter their faith persuasion or nationality, to encourage the young not to hold on to violence and bitterness and the hatred of previous generations, to listen not just with his ears and his mind but to listen from the heart.
He negotiated very difficult terrain politically and kept a grueling schedule for even a young man, let alone a man in his 80s. Known as an intellectual heretofore, Joseph Ratzinger has risen to the demands of his calling as successor to Peter and Vicar of Christ on earth with exemplary leadership, commitment and energy. We are blessed, the Middle East is blessed, the peace process is blessed. Thank you Lord for Pope Benedict XVI! Ad multos annos! God bless the pope!