(3 of 3)
Benedict's public appeal comes from a manner that is always composed. His voice has a singsong cadence and his smile lights up his aging face. He doesn't mince words. "True revolution can only come from God," he told the youth gathering in Cologne. The new Pope has managed to fill John Paul's shoes without trying to match his oversized magnetism, and in so doing has revealed a side of his character that perhaps he didn't even know he had. Angelo Cardinal Scola of Venice, who has known Ratzinger since 1971, says the papacy has brought out the best in his mentor. Ratzinger, Scola told Time, "has the gift to be able to speak, at the same time, to the most simple and the most cultured of people. In 35 years, every single time I have seen or heard him, I have learned something new."
The new Pope himself seems ready to learn. Over the summer, he met in a one-month span with the leaders of the ultratraditionalist Lefebvrites and then with Hans Küng, a Swiss-born progressive theologian who has loudly disagreed with much of Cardinal Ratzinger's doctrine. He showed no sign of giving ground on either flank, but he listened. At October's Synod of Bishops, he introduced the first-ever open discussion period, and took part in it. "That the Pope himself spoke up was evidence that he wants a direct and immediate dialogue with his brother Bishops a precious sign of a healthy collegiality," says Scola, whom Benedict picked to preside over the three-week-long meeting. And he reaches out, above all, to his flock. Benedict has already produced a series of penetrating homilies, using language that often doesn't quite sound like it should come from a Pope. In a passage on sin, he wrote of the temptation to "think that bargaining a little with evil, reserving some freedom against God, is good, perhaps even necessary. But if we look at the world, it is not so. Evil always poisons." His predecessor's poetic touch made the world take notice. Benedict will connect by the power of his prose.
But for all his learning and his sense of mission, the great surprise of Benedict's papacy so far at least to those who didn't personally know him has been a quiet humanity. At the end of a general audience in August, the Pope had set aside time for a long line of the ill and elderly to personally greet him. A girl, perhaps 9 or 10 years old, approached, holding her mother's hand and gripping a teddy bear. Her hair was cut short and her face was puffy from medication. The Pope looked straight in the little girl's eager eyes, and brushed his hand with a blessing across her forehead. And then, without missing a beat, he reached over and blessed the teddy bear in the same way. Among those for whom doctrine is key, Benedict's unshakable convictions will earn him both fans and foes. For those of us less sure of our faith and even those with none at all the new Pope reminds us, simply, that a missionary's work is never done.