Black Catholics React to First Papal Election in 26 Years

After two weeks of mourning the death of Pope John Paul II and searching for a new leader of the faith, a sense of normalcy has returned to the Catholic Church with the election of German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to become the 265th Pope.

The selection came this week, just two days into the mandatory conclave of over 100 Cardinals who swore to secretly elect the new head of the church. After the traditional white smoke billowed from the Vatican’s chimney and the bells began tolling, signifying that a new Pope had been elected, Ratzinger, who took the name Benedict XVI, briefly addressed a crowd outside the Vatican. He was formally installed over the weekend.

“Dear brothers and sisters, after our great pope, John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble worker in God’s vineyard,” the new Pope told the crowd, according to a CNN translation of remarks he made in Italian.

“I am consoled by the fact that the Lord knows how to work and how to act, even with insufficient tools, and I especially trust in your prayers.”Due to John Paul’s 26-year reign, it was the first conclave of the digital age; a fact that was not lost on many college-aged Catholics.

“It’s not everyday you witness the election of a new Pope, so you do get the sense that you’re watching history take place,” Michael Arceaneaux, a junior broadcast journalism major at Howard University in Washington, DC, said.

Ratzinger, a close confidant of the deceased Pope, was a surprise to some pundits, who expected a pope from Latin America or Africa due to the growing number of Catholics in those regions. However, Arceaneaux said that he was not surprised the selection came from Europe.

“With Catholicism’s popularity surging in Africa and Latin America, one would think that the Vatican would give stronger consideration to the papal candidates of color,” he said.

“I wasn’t expecting him or the candidate from Latin America to actually get elected Pope, but I was hoping for change. Then again, it takes the church forever to catch up with the times.” Arceaneaux was not alone in his assessment.

“You are supposed to choose the pope according to your following, and the African following is the fastest growing, but the Catholic faith is very traditional,” he said. Following the official announcement, speculation already began about what Ratzinger’s tenure would mean for the Catholic Church. Everything from length to style has been debated.

Falling just a few years under the Church mandated 80 year or younger requirement for the new Pope, Ratzinger is not expected to reign for a quarter of a century like his predecessor. He celebrated his 78th birthday just a few days before calming the papacy. The perception that Ratzinger would be a transitional Pope was only fueled by him taking the name of one of the shortest reign Popes ever. Ratzinger’s namesake held the position for only eight years.

“That name has not been in use since [around] 1915, so it may prove ironic,” Mobley said. “This new pope is very old, so we’ll probably be getting a new one soon.”

Also at issue is the tenor the church will take with Ratzinger at the helm. Prior to becoming pontiff, he served as the Dean of the College of Cardinals and was generally regarded as John Paul’s enforcer in terms of the traditions of the church. In fact, his stance on issues such as contraception and allowing females to become cardinals earned him the nickname Cardinal NO among observers. In the past, Ratzinger has done little to distance himself from that reputation.

“Relativism, which is letting oneself be ‘swept along by every wind of teaching,’ looks like the only attitude [acceptable] to today’s standards,” he said at a Mass days before the conclave began, according to CNN.

“We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism, which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”Black Catholics seemed just as unsure of the pending direction as other observers.

“He [doesn’t] seem very progressive, but he says he wants to unite the church, so we’ll see,” Mobley said.For his part, Arceaneaux seemed less optimistic. “Well already he warns against working with other denominations, and he’s adamant about sticking to traditional Catholic doctrine,” he said. “His hardliner image is what got him elected.”