Pope Benedict legacy: Teacher who returned to church roots

Feb 28 2013, 09:44 IST
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SummaryOn Monday, April 4, 2005, a priest walked up to the Renaissance palazzo housing the Vatican's doctrine department and asked the doorman to call the official in charge: It was the first day of business after Pope John Paul II had died, and the cleric wanted to get back to work.

to the final installment of his triptych on ``Jesus of Nazareth'' last year _ considered by some to be his most important contribution to the church. In between he produced the ``Catechism of the Catholic Church'' _ essentially a how-to guide to being a Catholic.

Benedict spent the bulk of his early career in the classroom, as a student and then professor of dogma and fundamental theology at universities in Bonn, Muenster, Tuebingen and Regensburg, Germany.

``His classrooms were crowded,'' recalled the Rev. Joseph Fessio, a theology student of Ratzinger's at the University of Regensburg from 1972-74, and now the English-language publisher of his books.

``I don't recall him having notes,'' Fessio said. ``He would stand at the front of the class, and he wasn't looking at you, not with eye contact, but he was looking over you, almost meditating.''

It's a style that he's kept for 40 years.

``If you hear him give a sermon, he's speaking not from notes, but you can write it down and print it,'' Fessio said. ``Every comma is there. Every pause.''

Benedict never wanted to be pope and he didn't take easily to the rigors of the job. Elected April 19, 2005, after one of the shortest conclaves in history, Benedict was, at 78, the oldest pope elected in 275 years and the first German in nearly a millennium.

At first he was stiff.

Giovanni Maria Vian, editor of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, recalled that in the early days Benedict used to greet crowds with an awkward victory gesture ``as if he were an athlete.''

``At some point someone told him that wasn't a very papal gesture,'' Vian said. Benedict changed course, opting for an open-armed embrace or an almost effeminate twinkling of his fingers on an outstretched hand as a way of connecting with the crowd.

``No one is born a pope,'' Vian said. ``You have to learn to be a pope.''

And slowly Benedict learned.

Crowds accustomed to a quarter-century of superstar John Paul II, grew to embrace the soft-spoken, scholarly Benedict, who had an uncanny knack for being able to absorb different points of view and pull them together in a coherent whole.

He traveled, though less extensively than John Paul, and presided over Masses that were heavy on Latin, Gregorian chant and the silk brocaded vestments of his pre-Vatican II predecessors.

Benedict seemed genuinely surprised by the warm reception he received _ as well as the

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