Friday, January 04, 2008

The Ratzinger Phenomenon


Osservatore Romano/Reuters

~a translation of the Corriere della Sera article via Papa Ratzinger Forum
It seemed impossible to imagine a successor to John Paul II who could come near the media enthusiasm that accompanied the long Pontificate of 'Karol the Great', but the impossible has been achieved by the timid and discreet Papa Ratzinger who has aroused and continues to arouse great attention in the Catholic world - attention which has been manifested by the extraordinary influx of pilgrims to the Vatican and translated into a doubling of Peter's Pence, the personal offerings made by the faithful around the world to their spiritual leader to be used for his charities.

In 2005, the year of the Wojtyla-Ratzinger transition, Peter's Pence for the year totalled 59 million dollars; in 2006, it was 102 million. It is a sign of the sense of certainty that the current Pope appears to give the moderate - and usually more affluent - elements of the Catholic world.

Benedict XVI's actions - not excluding his liberalization of the traditional Mass - and his firmness on the great moral issues, starting with defense of life and the family, have certainly weighed much in encouraging the faithful who have been flocking to the Vatican.

More than 2,800,000 faithful took part in the Pope's public events at the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo in 2007, according to figures from the Pontifical Household. The total is lower than in 2006, but this is most likely a 'physiologic' settling down after the unprecedented 'boom' associated with the start of this Pontificate.

In the first five months alone, more than 410,000 pilgrims came to the Vatican to attend Benedict's general audiences, compared to less than 200,000 who had attended Papa Wojtyla's Wednesday audiences in the same time period of the preceding year.

Of course, comparisons cannot be completely analogous. John Paul II had transformed his ministry into a travelling Pontificate to personally go forth and meet the faithful around the world.

Papa Ratzinger has reduced his travelling only to those that he considers obligatory, just as he has reduced almost by half the number of papal speeches, of public events and of private and official audiences. He has given up Papal officiating at beatifications, delegating this to cardinals, as well as systematic visits to the parishes of Rome (in his capacity as Bishop of Rome).

But one must not forget that he began his 'new job' at 78, whereas Wojtyla became Pope at 58.

But if Benedict has reduced public activity, he has certainly increased the doctrinal activity of the Papacy - that which is personally carried out by the Pope.

Even in this respect, the theologian Pope's grip on the Catholic world has been remarkable, as his second encyclical Spe salvi showed. Released on November 30, it had sold at least 1.5 million copies within a month just in the Italian edition sold by the Vatican publishing house (and another half a million through supplements with the magazine FAMIGLIA CRISTIANA and the newspaper Avvenire). [NB: The first encyclical, Deus caritas est, also passed the million-mark in sales within a few weeks , unheard of for an encyclical until then.]

Likewise, his book JESUS OF NAZARETH published in Italy last April 13 has sold 2 million copies in Italy alone and has been translated to 32 languages, with seven more language editions in preparation.

And the publishing success is not limited to his books and encyclicals alone. The Vatican publishing house says that its series of little booklets - 25 so far - that periodically put together the Pope's regular homilies has sold more than 600,000 copies so far.

As Benedict rounds out the third year of his Pontificate, facts and figures show a much more intense activity than his immediate predecessors, relative to their number of years in office and their age: seven foreign trips, a major Motu Proprio, two encyclicals, the historic letter-appeal to Chinese Catholics.

The program for 2008 will not be less intense: two encyclicals are in the works - one on social issues including globalization, and the other on faith to complete his cycle on the theological virtues. Not to mention the second volume of JESUS OF NAZARETH.

His trips in 2008 will include three within Italy and three abroad (Washington, DC, New York City and the United Nations,; World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia; and the 150th anniversary of the Marian Apparitions in Lourdes, France).

For one of the oldest Popes in history, his activity is indeed remarkable and the interest he raises around the world is extraordinary.

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