A theologian in the seat of power: Benedict XVI, from scholar to leader

"Without the pope, there would be no World Youth Day (WYD)," Madrid Cardinal Antonio María Rouco said. Indeed, if the pope had not attended, WYD would be nothing more than an anecdote on the evangelical calendar of the Catholic hierarchy. The pope is the one who guarantees a massive turnout and religious fervor, as Madrid is experiencing these days, in addition to state participation and even controversy, which is always good for heating things up a bit. WYD, however, was a creation of the Polish John Paul II, who was athletic and dynamic, and a great actor - "the young people's pope" as Rouco called him in WYD's inaugural sermon.

Ratzinger, on the other hand, is not a youth leader, but rather a reserved thinker, little given to show; an intellectual, in other words. He succeeded John Paul II when he was already 78 years old. Since then, he has had to get used to traveling, and little by little, he has also become a man for the multitudes, freed at last from the blot of having been for many decades the grand inquisitor of the Church of Rome.

He is not a youth leader, but rather an intellectual and little given to show
Young Ratzinger was a theologian of openness — modern and even daring
Deeply concerned, the pope believes that Spain today is in need of a mission
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Joseph Alois Ratzinger was born in Marktl am Inn (Germany) in 1927. He entered the seminary when he was 12 years old, but was forced to leave when Hitler, who had already lost the war, began conscripting young boys of 16.

Consequently, Ratzinger was a soldier in Nazi Germany. Although he has spoken little of this experience, it undoubtedly left its mark on his character. It has also given his detractors grounds to accuse him of totalitarian influences.

Young Ratzinger took up his studies again at the age of 19, finishing them at the University of Munich. Cardenal Von Faulhaber ordained him as a priest in 1951, along with his brother Georg. Not long after, he was teaching theology at the University of Regensburg.

Between 1962 and 1965, he participated as an expert in the Second Vatican Council, as a consultant to the Cardinal of Cologne. At that time, he was a theologian of openness - modern, even daring, and in favor of opening up dialogues with other religions. But the dream of youth was already leading to the poison of arrogance: it was Ratzinger who inspired the Dominus Iesus declaration, signed by John Paul II in 2000, which stated that the Catholic Church was the sole religion of salvation (or the only true one). Before this, Ratzinger had accepted from Pope Paul VI the post of archbishop of Munich (1977), and the dignity of the cardinal four years later.

From the period of Ratzinger as a proponent of openness, we have this phrase: "What the Church of today needs is not more of the same eulogists, but rather men whose humility and obedience is no less than their passion for the truth."

This was Ratzinger the brilliant professor, free theologian and colleague of the best Christian thinkers of the century (Rahner, Congar, Schillebeeckx, Küng, among the most well known), with some of whom he shared publishers, journals and university chairs. His reformist zeal would last only as long as it took John Paul II to bring him into the sanctuary of the Vatican, promoting him to the presidency of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which he had decided to call the former and terrible Holy Office of the Inquisition.

Then, Ratzinger the theologian was transformed into judge and executioner of hundreds of theologians, whom he punished without a second thought for upholding many times what he himself had previously thought.

Other thoughts from his youth, taken from his 1969 book, The New People of God, include the following: "Christ was not a priest, but a layman. He did not have any specific vocation. Christ did not see himself as an interpreter of the desires and hopes of mankind, as the voice of the people or their secret or public leader, neither did he understand his mission from below, in a democratic sense."

Regarding Christian freedom, Ratzinger wrote, "It is no coincidence that the great saints not only had to fight against the world, but also against the Church, against the Church's tendency to become too involved in worldly affairs, nor that under the Church and in the Church, Francis of Assisi and Ignatius of Loyola had to suffer, the latter of whom, in his third prison in 22 days in Salamanca, in irons in an Inquisition jail, still maintained his joy and faith."

"All over the Christian world," Ratzinger wrote, "an army of priests were moving, under the authority of the pope but with no local prelate. St Bernard reminds us that we are not the successors of Emperor Constantine, but the successors of a fisherman."

Ratzinger has not been a traveling pope, though he has got around more than those who knew him thought he would. He has made 19 trips abroad and 23 trips within Italy. He has visited Spain three times, including this visit, evidence of his deep concern over the future of Spanish Catholicism, Europe's traditional reserve of spirituality, and today the subject of desertions and splits.

It's a diagnosis that it easy to give, and one that Cardinal Rouco has been reaffirming for years, which is Ratzinger's belief that Spain is today a country in need of a mission.

Pope Benedict XVI salutes the hundreds of thousands of World Youth Day pilgrims who flocked to Madrid's Cibeles square on Thursday.
Pope Benedict XVI salutes the hundreds of thousands of World Youth Day pilgrims who flocked to Madrid's Cibeles square on Thursday.GORKA LEJARCEGI
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