Benedict XVI, As Seen Up Close

Vatican Officials Give Insider's Look

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By Marta Lago

ROME, MAY 23, 2008 (Zenit.org).- If you want to understand Joseph Ratzinger, the man and the Pope, the starting point is the love of God, affirmed a cardinal who has worked closely with him.

Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, gave an inside look at the personality of Benedict XVI when he participated Tuesday in the book launch of "Benedictus," by Giuseppe de Carli.

"The key to the person and the ministry of Benedict XVI is the love of God," the cardinal said, affirming that the Pontiff's first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est," "represents the particularity of this Pontiff."

But the cardinal clarified what that love of God means: "Love is not a static attitude," but "a dynamism that, by definition, is something that spreads.

"It tends to continuously bring into play new energies," he affirmed. "Thus, love provokes the great questions, and therefore engenders philosophy and theology."

Pope of the people

According to Cardinal Saraiva Martins, "Benedictus" documents "the development of the presence of Benedict XVI on the international scene of the third millennium, and shows how, step by step, the Pope is entering, with his reserved, stately style, into the hearts of the people."

The cardinal added that without leaving aside his intellectual depth, the Holy Father is "becoming the Pope of the people, because the people clearly perceive his message, even when it is full of uncomfortable truths, that is, demanding [truths] that call for a commitment."

The prelate continued: "He is always guided by a fatherly love that does not resign itself to seeing his children drown in mediocrity.

"And what, if not love, is his constant urging to combat the dictatorship of relativism, so thoroughly saturating our society?"

Regarding his presence on the international scene, the Holy Father's "role is not along the lines of appearing, but of being," Cardinal Saraiva Martins contended. "His very presence, even before his teaching, is for everyone a constant calling to live in love and in the search for truth."

His way of presenting himself "to the Church and the world is never invasive: his tone of voice lacks the slightest element of arrogance, his discreet, humble, cordial approach manages to open the hearts of many to his proposals."

Fundamental

Offering another view, Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, recalled how the Pope, two days after his election, called him urgently to ask help with the design of the papal coat of arms. The Italian prelate is an expert in ecclesiastic heraldry.

"I immediately discovered his fundamental characteristics," the cardinal said, "which the book amply points out: the aspect of the man's simplicity, humanity, sincerity, spontaneity, but also the timidity. And I noted that this is accompanied right away with an element of decisiveness, matured in reflection."

Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and thus one of Cardinal Ratzinger's closest collaborators just before the election to the See of Peter, described the pontificate as a continuation of his previous style.

He explained: "That which we see now in the Holy Father in reality is that which Ratzinger was as the prefect of our congregation.

"The same intellectual lucidity, the same zeal for the defense of doctrine, the same simplicity in human relationships, the same humility in his person."

A smile

Paging through "Benedictus," the archbishop said, one sees four outstanding qualities. "[The Pope's] radiant, spontaneous, good-hearted and contagious smile" was first on the list.

Then, Archbishop Amato noted, the Holy Father is characterized by "his willingness to dialogue, matured in his years of university teaching and sharpened in his meetings with bishops from around the world," who visited him in his role as prefect of the Vatican congregation.

"He is a man of dialogue, woven together not with frigidity or indifference, but with an interior passion, because he is an intellectual with heart," he said.

The prelate proposed that the "communicative strength of the Pope proceeds from the reasonableness of his speech -- as much when he speaks of Christ or illustrates the truth of the faith, as when he critiques the pathologies of postmodern mentality."

And since "faith and reason are the two wings that raise us to the truth," Archbishop Amato concluded, "it is precisely the truth, love for the truth and the proposal of truth that is the common thread giving continuity to Ratzinger, before as prefect, now as Pope."