The New York Times On The Web




Pope, Reviving Weekly Audience, Stresses Europe's Christian Roots


Published: April 28, 2005

VATICAN CITY, April 27 - The normal rhythms of the Vatican began returning Wednesday as Pope Benedict XVI held the traditional weekly papal audience, using the moment to express what may become a central theme of his papacy: the Christian roots of Europe.

Addressing thousands of pilgrims on a brilliant morning in St. Peter's Square, he explained that he had chosen the name Benedict for several reasons, among them the role that St. Benedict of Norcia in Italy, the sixth-century author of the monastic "Rule" that led to the founding of the Benedictine order, had on spreading Christianity in Europe. Benedict is one of the patron saints of Europe.

"He represents a fundamental point of reference for the unity of Europe and a strong reminder of the unrenounceable Christian roots of its culture and civilization," the pope said in Italian, one of at least six languages he used on Wednesday.

As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before he was chosen pope last week, he wrote often of his worries that Europe had forgotten its Christian roots and therefore was in danger of losing its identity and spiritual grounding. His choice, as a European cardinal and one who has focused on the Roman Catholic Church's decline in Europe, has led to speculation that he will push for a "re-evangelization" of an increasingly secular Europe, though he has not yet announced any specific plan for doing so.

Though liberal Catholics often criticized Cardinal Ratzinger, who was the church's doctrinal watchdog, for opinions they called hard-line and divisive, in his eight days as pope, Benedict has repeatedly reached out in his speeches - to Jews and Muslims, and to Orthodox Christians and other branches of Christianity - and said his reign would be devoted to unity.

In the months before Pope John Paul II died, the Wednesday audiences - prayers and greetings open to almost anyone - had virtually ended because of his long hospital stays and fragile health. On Wednesday, Benedict announced that he would "start anew" the audiences after the "pious death of venerated predecessor, John Paul II."

Although Benedict was not much in the public eye when he was Cardinal Ratzinger - and does not seem naturally to love being the center of attention - as pope he has kept a grueling schedule of public events and seems to be warming to it.

As he did Sunday, when he was formally installed as pope, he toured St. Peter's Square in his popemobile, again without protective glass though surrounded by security guards. As is customary in the audiences, he read out to loud cheers the towns and organizations of pilgrims in the crowd - on Wednesday from Mexico, Germany, France, Portugal, Poland and, in large numbers, Italy.

The crowds seem to be warming to Benedict as well, and for all the affection for John Paul, some said it was refreshing to watch a pope who was healthy and meeting crowds.

"It's beautiful and really moving to see a pope among the people," said Elena Trivitera, 13, holding up a sign greeting the pope from her school in Sicily, whose students traveled to Rome especially for the audience. "He is out getting to know us, and we are getting to know him."

For the first time as pope, Benedict read out greetings in Spanish, the main language in Latin America, where half the world's Roman Catholics live. He did not use Spanish on Saturday when he met with journalists from around the world, an omission that irritated many reporters from Latin America, especially given the disappointment there that a Latin American was not chosen pope.

On Wednesday, Benedict also read the greetings in English, German, French, Italian and Polish.

Subscribe Today: Home Delivery of The Times from $2.90/wk.