Pope Benedict XVI: In five years, he has proven to be an inspiring leader Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler, editor   
Thursday, Apr. 15, 2010 -- 12:00 AM

Five years ago on April 19, the white smoke appeared and the bells were rung at St. Peter’s Basilica to announce that the Catholic Church had a new pope: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, who took the name of Pope Benedict XVI.

As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger had attempted to retire and spend more time writing. Pope John Paul II had encouraged him to remain in his office.

editor's view by Mary C. Uhler

Obviously God did not want him to retire either. At age 78, Pope Benedict would take on even greater challenges as the leader of the Catholic Church. Many people expected Pope Benedict XVI to be a much less active pontiff than his predecessor. They thought he would remain in Rome and stay out of the limelight.

They were wrong.

Travels throughout the world

In the past five years, Pope Benedict has proven to be a very active leader. He has travelled quite often within Italy and has visited 17 countries on 13 foreign trips — visiting every continent except Antarctica.

This year alone he has five foreign trips planned. Just after he celebrates his 83rd birthday on April 16, he will be going to Malta. His future trips this year include Portugal in May, Cyprus in June, England and Scotland in September, and Spain in November.

A Catholic News Service article discussing his travels notes that the aims of all of his apostolic journeys include preaching the Gospel, underlining the contributions Christian values bring to culture and society, and bringing the face of the successor of Peter to the people.

Firm truths taught with gentle smile

In this age of instant media coverage, Pope Benedict is able to reach millions of people on his journeys. So far, it seems as if Pope Benedict has been received well by all people — not just Catholics. His gentle manner and engaging smile resonate with the public, who are looking for inspiring leaders.

While giving the impression of being a tough enforcer of Church doctrine under John Paul II, Pope Benedict has remained firm in holding to the truths of the faith while delivering the message positively. He encourages more than he scolds.

In his trip to the United States in 2008, Pope Benedict impressed everyone in his stop at “Ground Zero” to pray for the victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York City. I remember watching on television as he shook hands with family members of those who died on 9-11, his white robes blowing softly in the breeze. We could see his compassion as he looked each person in the eyes and spoke to each one  of them.

In Washington, D.C., he spent time with victims of clergy sexual abuse. He expressed his personal shame for what happened and prayed with the victims. He mentioned that when he read the case histories of the victims of sexual abuse, he found it hard to imagine how a priest could betray his mission to be an agent of God's love.

While the secular media has tried to discredit Pope Benedict XVI’s handling of sexual abuse cases, the record shows he has pushed for harsher penalties against abusers.

Counteracting secularism

The pope’s broader issue in the United States — echoed in other visits, especially to European countries — is what he called the “attack of a new secularism” that threatens to undermine traditional moral values and the voice of religion in public affairs.

To counteract these trends, he said, people need Christ’s and the Church’s message of  faith, hope, and love, which are the focus of his three encyclicals.

He has especially encouraged respect for the environment. “The earth itself groans under the weight of consumerist greed and irresponsible exploitation,” he told young people on his visit to the United States. He sees ecology as part respect for creation and the creator.

Let us pray for our Holy Father on his fifth anniversary as pope and on his 83rd birthday. May he continue to lead the Catholic Church with wisdom and grace. May he inspire all people to help build a better world filled with peace, understanding, and Gospel values.