MANILA, April 21, 2005
(STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo led the nation in hailing the election of German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI, calling his appointment a "continuing beacon" for the country’s faithful.

The choice of conservative Joseph Ratzinger, the late John Paul II’s doctrinal enforcer, was welcomed by Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation, with many of the Filipino faithful sharing Vatican’s hardline stance on abortion, contraception and homosexuality.

"We share in the jubilation over the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the new pope," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"I am certain that Pope Benedict XVI will serve as a continuing beacon leading the 1.1 billion Catholics of the world across the trials and challenges of the millennium," the President said.

Mrs. Arroyo said the papal succession "served to unify not only the Catholic faithful but also those who believe in peace, brotherhood and harmony with other nations and faiths."

Vice President Noli de Castro also joined the faithful in welcoming the election of Ratzinger as the new pope. "I welcome Pope Benedict XVI as the new supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church. May God give him the strength and wisdom to bring all men and nations closer to the Almighty," he said.

De Castro called on the faithful to give the same support to Pope Benedict XVI in the same degree as his predecessor, the late Pope John Paul II.

Jaime Cardinal Sin, who was unable to attend the Vatican conclave that elected the new pope, also expressed satisfaction.

"He said the new pope is a bright and good man," his spokesman Fr. Jun Sescon said. "They belong to the same tradition."

The German cardinal and Sin were together in the conclaves of 1977 and 1978. Sin was named cardinal in 1976, a year ahead of Ratzinger. The Philippines, a country of 84 million people of whom at least 67 million are Catholic, is the world’s third most populous Catholic nation after Brazil and Mexico.

A majority of the Catholics in the country are in broad agreement with the Vatican in its opposition to abortion, artificial contraceptives, and the ordination of women priests, among other contentious issues besetting the religion in the West.

Abortion and divorce are against the law in the Philippines, and condoms and birth control pills are unpopular.

Ratzinger’s appointment as Pope Benedict XVI highlighted the concerns of the faithful which also dominated the front pages of major newspapers in the Philippines.

Church theologian Monsignor Moises Andrade said the pope’s choice of the name Benedict XVI symbolized the challenge facing the Vatican in promoting dialogue and understanding with other faiths.

Andrade said he expected the Pope to follow the lead of Benedict XV, who worked hard to prevent the onset of World War I.

"He could have chosen the names of the other German popes before him, but he did not," Andrade said.

He said the foreign media’s portrayal of Ratzinger as a ruthless and unyielding conservative was exaggerated but conceded that the new pontiff needed to explain his positions.

"He has to reach out and explain his views in a calm and exhaustive way," Andrade said. "This would also be the challenge for his assistants." The priest also downplayed fears that the choice of the German would heighten the split between the Church’s conservative and liberal wings.

"You can disagree but not be disagreeable," he said. "That is one way to explain your side." Andrade said the Filipino faithful "should not hesitate to voice out what we think" about the Pope’s direction. "If we are sincere about how we go about it, I’m sure our voice will be heard."

The late Pope John Paul II was hugely popular in the Philippines.

His visit to Manila in 1981 was credited with sowing the seeds of a bloodless popular revolt that toppled the rule of dictator Ferdinand Marcos five years later.

In 1995, an estimated four million to five million Filipinos flocked to Manila’s Rizal Park see the pontiff on his second visit to the country. Filipino historian Esteban la Torre said the election of Ratzinger came as no surprise.

La Torre claimed the German prelate was "highly favored by many of the cardinals." Although a conservative the new pope may "surprise us all," he said.

"The new pope faces a daunting task and will need to address the issues now facing the church. Issues such as birth control, homosexuality, women priests. These are issues that will need some urgent answers.

"I think you will find this pope will be more concerned with putting the church’s house in order. In other words, he will spend more time at home rather than traveling the world as Pope John Paul the second did.

"Pope John Paul the second brought the church to the world. He did a tremendous job. But how the new pope will need to attend to the house cleaning."

Asked whether the new pope would be seen as a transitional pope, La Torre said: "I don’t think so. At 78 he is extremely fit and healthy. I would not be surprised if he is around for 10 to 15 years or more."

Interim Pope?

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president and Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla said the bishops will support the election of Ratzinger as the new pope.

"In these times of socio-economic-political unpeace, uncertainty, and insecurity worldwide, the Filipino bishops assure his Holiness of their continued and fervent prayers together with their respective clergy, religious and lay faithful," Capalla said.

Papal Nuncio Antonio Franco said that the Church is praying that Pope Benedict XVI will continue the legacy of Pope John Paul II.

"We all rejoice and we all will be united with the Holy Father in thanking the good Lord and in praying that he may continue and take over the inheritance of John Paul II and continue to be the leader of the Church, responding to the expectations of the people with the light of the Gospel and the values of the Christian and Catholic tradition," Franco said.

Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, for his part, said that though Benedict XVI will be a wonderful successor to Pope John Paul II, he will be most likely be an interim pope, citing his age.

At 78, Pope Benedict XVI is the oldest pope to be elected in recent history, he said.

"He is now 78. Even if he is strong now, age will take its toll on him. But like John XXIII, he will revolutionize the Church. I believe Cardinal Ratzinger will give a great contribution to the Catholic Church," Arguelles said.

Arguelles admitted he was not personally expecting Cardinal Ratzinger to be elected as the new pope.

Former Novaliches Bishop Teodoro Bacani also expressed his happiness at the election of Cardinal Ratzinger as the new pope.

"The Pope is the gift of God to us," he said. "God has answered our prayers and we were given a pope who is fitted to these times. We Catholics should rally behind the new pope," Bacani said.

For his part, Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales expressed confidence that Pope Benedict XVI will maintain close ties with Filipinos in the same way his predecessor did.

"The late pope has almost identified Filipinos with the word ‘mabuhay,’" Rosales said. "That friendship with the Father started with his trips in the Philippines. Since then, Filipinos began to love him. There were reasons for this kind of relationship. Now with this new pope, will he do likewise? Well, probably. They say he is a very open man. I am sure he will connect," Rosales said.

Rosales said Pope Benedict XVIs experience as a theologian and historian will be most helpful in confronting the present issues dogging the Church.

Rosales recounted Ratzinger appeared to be interested in the Philippines when at one time, he was approached by the German cardinal while visiting the Vatican.

"We did not talk about the Synod (at the Vatican) but he appeared to be interested in the Philippines and asked me what was happening in our country," Rosales said.

Rosales said he even invited Ratzinger to visit the Philippines as the cardinal was going to Hong Kong to attend a meeting. The invitation was declined however by Ratzinger saying he was only allowed to travel to Hong Kong.

Rosales also said that Pope Benedict XVI will also be close to the youth in the same way as the late Pope John Paul II. His closeness to the youth will be shown in August when Cologne, Germany will host this year’s World Youth Day, Rosales said.

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz also claimed personally knowing the man who is now known as Pope Benedict XVI.

"I know this man," Cruz said. "His kindness and brilliance are not speculative but underneath this is his firmness." Cruz, former president of the CBCP, said that Pope Benedict XVI is "neither conservative, nor progressive, nor traditional, nor fundamentalist."

"He knows and speaks the truth about God, about humanity and about nature," Cruz said.

He claimed the Holy Spirit has disproved the human belief that a popular cardinal will be eventually elected as the new pope.

Cruz said "the election of Pope Benedict XVI within 24 hours gives the message that the College of Cardinals who knew one another well had been eyeing him even before the Conclave, otherwise you can’t explain this very short papal election."

For his part, Cotabato Bishop Orlando Quevedo, also a former CBCP president, said Benedict XVI will continue the religious thrusts of the late John Paul II.

Quevedo, a ranking official of the Rome-based Oblates of Mary Immaculate congregation, said the new pope is "very humble and self-effacing."

"I have no doubt Pope Benedict XVI will surely surprise the world with his human qualities of kindness, compassion, humility and ability to listen to different ideas," Quevedo said.

Quevedo has also appealed to Catholics in Central Mindanao to pray for the newly elected pope.

Some from the Muslim community in Mindanao likewise hailed the election of the new Pope.

Tucao Mastura, a datu and the mayor of Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao, said the royal house in their municipality which has been actively supporting the peace initiatives of the Catholic community, is confident the new pope will focus on the promotion of religious solidarity among Muslims and Christians.

"The late Pope John Paul II had plenty of examples on how to build peace among peoples of different religions. Pope Benedict XVI has much to emulate if only to carry on the legacy left behind by his successor," Mastura said. — With reports from Mike Frialde, Pia Lee-Brago, John Unson, Eva Visperas, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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