Benedict XVI about John Paul II
'I consider it a special grace which my Venerable Predecessor, John Paul II, has obtained for me' - these were the words of Benedict XVI about his election to the See of Peter. 'I seem to feel his strong hand clasping mine; I seem to see his smiling eyes and hear his words, at this moment addressed specifically to me, Do not be afraid!' he said during his first Mass celebrated in the Sistine Chapel the next day after the conclave. Instead of giving a homily the new Pope addressed the Cardinals in Latin. He mentioned his predecessor John Paul II several times. Moreover, in comparison with his earlier words about 'sinking boat of the Church', Benedict XVI stressed that John Paul II 'leaves a Church that is more courageous, freer, more youthful. She is a Church which, in accordance with his teaching and example, looks serenely at the past and is not afraid of the future'. He added that he was impressed by the death of John Paul II, who gathered around him all Christians and made the entire human family feel more closely united. The Pope's mention of John Paul II, his tribute paid to this charismatic figure - all of this was not only an expression of great tribute to the great predecessor but also an expression of his intention to continue his work. It was not the first time that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, spoke about John Paul II so marvelously and deeply. Let us mention his words on the balcony of St Peter's Basilica just after his election. He began, 'after the great Pope John Paul II, the Cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord...' The large crowd of thousands of people who gathered in St Peter's Square applauded just after having heard the words about John Paul II. The same reaction was after the first blessing Urbi et Orbi, when pilgrims from all over the world cried 'Benedetto' in the rhythm and tune of Giovanni-Paolo. It meant that most pilgrims in St Peter's Square did not only want to greet the new Pope but also pay tribute to John Paul II.
Who does not remember the solemn but extremely simple liturgy of the funeral of John Paul II, including the moving words of Cardinal Ratzinger. He said that the late Pope, great and holy, 'is standing today at the window of the Father's house, that he sees us and blesses us'. Such words could have only been spoken by someone who reagarded the late pope as his friend. And the only cardinal - as the inhabitants of the Vatican claimed - who John Paul II addressed amico fidato, which means 'trusty friend', was exactly Cardinal Ratzinger. It means that John Paul II had complete comfidence in the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is said that there was no John Paul's document that Cardinal Ratzinger did not see. Every document was given to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Prefect of which was the newly elected Pope. One can state, therefore, that Cardinal Ratzinger was one of the co-creators of the pontificate of John Paul II as far as the doctrine of the faith is considered. Thus in the sphere of teaching, in the doctrinal line, the choice of the Church means continuation. Since Cardinal Ratzinger was regarded as the right hand of John Paul II it is now as if the right hand of Pope Wojtyla did not stop blessing people. Now we understand the warmth and sweetness coming from the words of the new Pope when he spoke about John Paul II. Is not the fact that Pope Ratzinger has taken Wojtyla's cross - the crucifix sculptured by Scrozelli, a meanigful symbol? Benedict XVI appeared with this crozier on the balcony of St Peter's Basilica. His coat of arms resembles the one John Paul II had: a cross and the letter M. Moreover, it is worth stressing that after the fourth vote Cardinal Ratzinger had gone to pray at the tomb of John Paul II before he accepted the election.
In this context it is also worth mentioning the words of Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Vatican press spokesman, which he said after the election of the new Pope. He said that their paths of Ratzinger and Wojtyla kept crossing, also on the personal level. He admitted that having seen the two men talking was 'an unforgetable experience' to him and the continuation of the work of John Paul II was obvious, and it was likely that Benedict XVI would make his first apostolic trip to Poland.
We can add that after the election of Benedict XVI the Board of the Polish Episcopate Conference wrote that 'If Benedict XVI makes the effort of pilgrimages we will welcome him to the Polish land with our hearts filled with the faith that makes us remember that the next Guardian of Peter's Keys has received his office and task from Christ himself - the hope of our salvation'.