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Thursday, April 13, 2006

In his first year as pope, Benedict impresses

Kevin Canessa Jr.
The Observer
April 12, 2006

KEARNY — Believe it or not, it’s been a year since Catholics around the world lost one of their most revered leaders, Pope John Paul II. His successor, Joseph Ratzinger, of Germany, now Pope Benedict XVI, has had a whirlwind of a first year as the supreme pontiff. From continuing to deal with the fall out from the sexual abuse scandals involving numerous Catholic priests, to his edict that gay men should not be allowed to study for the priesthood.

So just how did the pope do in his first year? The Rev. James J. Reilly, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church, says Benedict has surprised people in his first year as pontiff with his slick pastoral nature — something most people thought the arch-conservative would be unable to achieve.

“The present Pope Benedict, the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger is and was in many ways a surprise choice to become the pope,” Reilly said. “On one hand, there he was a year ago as the Dean of the College of Cardinals, leading the funeral for John Paul the Great, leading the conclave, so you might think he was the natural fit to be the pope.

“But then there’s the other side where he’s an older man. Personally, I don’t think he ever thought he’d be the pope.”

But he became the pope. And he’s been impressive thus far, Reilly says.

“Not only has he been great thus far, I think he’s going to continue to surprise us,” he said. “One thing’s for certain — he’s going to look to continue John Paul the Great’s agenda.”

One area where Reilly sees this is in ecumenism. John Paul II was deeply committed to improving relations with Eastern Orthodox churches. Reilly believes the current pope, who continues inter-religious dialogues with broken-off churches, might actually be the pontiff who brings Christian Churches throughout the world back together — and for good.

“He’s so wonderfully aggressive. I think he could do it,” Reilly said.

One other area Reilly thinks Benedict flourished in the last year was in dealing with young people. In August, Benedict was in his native Germany, in Cologne, for World Youth Day — something his predecessor began nearly 20 years ago. Benedict, Reilly says, reached out to young people much like John Paul did. Surprising, yet again, to many who thought he couldn’t do it.

“It was amazing what he was able to do with the young people,” he said. “Much like (Pope) John XXIII, I think he’ll continue to surprise more than people think.”

Calls to the Rev. Richard Cabezas, pastor of St. Stephen’s Church, and the Rev. Michael G. Ward, pastor of St. Cecilia’s, were not immediately returned.

Observer Editor Kevin Canessa Jr. can be reached at .

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