WITH little fanfare, Benedict XVI will tomorrow mark the second anniversary of his formal installation as pope, a threshold at which his immediate predecessors had established themselves in the public mind. Yet he remains an enigma to many who thought they knew him well, and something of a blank slate to a world curious to see what this new pontiff would be like.
Polls show Benedict — formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — in the middle of the pack among respected world leaders, and a survey last year in Germany had the Dalai Lama and even the losing World Cup coach Jürgen Klinsmann outpacing the first German pope as “a role model and admirable person.” It wasn’t that Benedict wasn’t liked as much as he wasn’t known, or understood.
Much of this puzzlement can be chalked up to the blessing of low expectations...
... The reality is that during these two years, even as he has preached the boundless grace of Christian charity, Benedict has also made it clear that divine love does not allow for compromise on matters of truth as the pope sees it, and that he will not brook anything that smacks of change in church teachings or traditions. Nor is he a caretaker pope who is willing to stand pat.
More (why reading the New York Times is equal to a cup of coffee first thing in the morning)
~from Corriere della sera via Papa Ratzinger Forum: Ratzinger's Crowded Day in Pavia
If somehow she were to lose her little son Matteo in the crowd, one mother wasn't worried. She made him wear a lanyard with an ID card for the Pope's visit and her cellular phone number written on it.
Good precaution because yesterday in Pavia, after the relative composure and moderation of the reception in Vigevano, Pope Benedict XVI was literally immersed in crowds from morning till evening - at the St. Matthew hospital, at the Borromeo Gardens, at the university, and even during an unplanned plunge into the crowd upon leaving the Basilica housing St. Augustine's tomb.
The warm rapport between the Pope and the people was evident from his first appointment in the morning - a visit to the San Matteo Polyclinic.
"Life must be defended at every stage," he reminded them, but he also said that suffering can be a way to get nearer to God.
"anyone who is a patient here knows what illness is, and what it means to need comfort," said Fausta Beltrametti, wife of ex-Minister Giulio Tremonti who welcomed the Pope in behalf of the patients.
Among those in the audience to greet the pope was Umberto Bossi [head of a political party called Lega...] who was with his wife and three children.
"Suddenly, there he was in front of me. And he said, 'Oh, you're here! How are you?' and we shook hands, " Bossi remembers.
Another one who met the Pope was cardiac surgeon Mario Vigano who said, "I was up till 4 a.m. finishing a heart transplant, and the Pope asked me how the patient was. I gave him a page on which is printed in 25 languages that phrase of Ezekiel, "I will take away your heart of stone and I will give you one of flesh'"
Amelia Borgo, a housewife and patient, said, "I asked him to pray for me."
At the esplanade of the Borromeo Gardens, some 25,000 faithful stood under the sun for Mass. In his homily, Ratzinger evoked St. Augustine, his faith and his conversion.
He again referred to him at the University of Pavia in the afternoon, where the crowd virtually submerged him - many of them students - and quite a few managed to shake his hand or touch him. Ratzinger was all smiles and he seemed very moved.
Indeed later on, after the last event on his schedule - the prayer at St. Augustine's tomb in San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro -
where a crowd had gathered outside the Church, he asked for a microphone and spoke to them, and then approached them to kiss babies and shake hands with the adults.
One of those who was very pleased about it was Gabriella Sacchi and her 8-year-old daughter Beatrice, who had been 'chasing' the Pope the whole day.
"We waited outside the Bishop's Palace, and we saw him pass before us. At the Borromeo Gardens, we stationed ourselves at the entrance, and when he passed, he smiled at us. But we really wanted to touch him and this time we did it! This Pope has illuminated our lives."
Beatrice was too stunned to remember what the Pope whispered to her. "All I remember is that his eyes are a beautiful color, not what I see on TV."