Officials and churchgoers from around the world expressed hope today that the new Pope will continue the work of his predecessor by building interfaith bridges. Even China said icy ties with the Vatican could improve – but only if the church breaks off relations with Taiwan.
Churchgoers applauded loudly in Manila’s Redemptorist Church, where John Paul II once celebrated Mass, after a priest announced the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI, head of the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics.
“I’m happy, in near tears. I hope he would continue the work left behind by our Pope John Paul II,” said Cynthia Leano.
“May this be the seed for ending the conflicts that divide us,” added President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Muslim-dominated Pakistan said that while divisions between religions and countries need political and socio-economic action to resolve, the Pope can play a significant role.
“He can bring some harmony into the tough process, into the thinking of the world, which today is divided,” Musharraf said during a visit to Manila. “He can play a role in suppressing this kind of negative thought ... and bringing a better environment toward resolution of disputes.”
An immediate challenge is improving contentious relations with China, which demands that Catholics worship only in churches approved by a state-controlled church group that does not recognise the Pope’s authority.
“We hope under the leadership of the new pope, the Vatican side can create favourable conditions for improving the relationshipbetween China and the Vatican,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement.
China’s officially atheist government broke ties with the Vatican in 1951 and has said it will consider opening relations only if the Vatican cuts links with rival Taiwan, which split with the mainland in 1949 amid civil war. Qin also said the Vatican “must not intervene in China’s domestic affairs, including not intervening in domestic affairs in the name of religion”.
In the US, bells rang out the news of the new Pope’s election at Roman Catholic churches nationwide. The Chicago Tribune offered a rare extra edition for a city visited three times by Pope John Paul II.
Not everyone was pleased. Many rank-and-file American Catholics – as well as gay-rights advocates, women’s-rights activists, and groups representing victims of abuse by priests – were disappointed at the selection of an unabashed conservative.
“I would have preferred a more moderate choice,” said Barbara Bowen, 56, a self-described “lapsed Catholic” from New York who was visiting Los Angeles and hurried over to the downtown Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels when its bells began ringing yesterday to herald the election.
“I was personally looking for someone who would approve the ordination of women – that would be nice and progressive,” Bowen said.
Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales said he met Ratzinger during a gathering of bishops from around the world and found him “a very warm man.” Rosales said he believed the new Pope was chosen so quickly because “aside from prayer, those cardinals had the feeling that they owe it to the flock that someone must continue the mind of the previous Pontiff”.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard called Ratzinger a “sound theologian” who, like his predecessor, would bring together people of different faiths.
“He comes to the leadership of the Catholic Church at a very important time of both challenge and opportunity for Christianity,” Howard told reporters in Japan. “I believe that he will give great leadership to the Catholic Church and will be a source of reassurance to the Christian church generally throughout the world.”
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun sent a congratulatory message to the new Pope and wished him to “bring fresh hope and blessing to the people of the world, who thirst for peace irrespective of their race and national borders”.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda also sent messages of congratulations.