22 APRIL 2005

We praise you, O God:
We acclaim you as the Lord.
Everlasting Father,
all the world bows down before you,
all the angels sing your praise,
the hosts of Heaven and all the angelic powers,
all the Cherubim and Seraphim,
call out to you an unending song,
Holy, Holy, Holy,
is the Lord God of Angel Hosts.

These words are taken from the Te Deum, the Church’s traditional Hymn of Thanksgiving to God. This evening we give thanks to God with great joy in our hearts. We give thanks to God for our new Pope, Pope Benedict XVI. On Tuesday the bells of this Cathedral tolled out in praise and exultation and they were heard around the world, thanks to Sky television and BBC.

The late Pope John Paul II had asked people to pray after his death that the Conclave might be speedy, harmonious and fruitful. It appears that those prayers were answered. The new Pope was elected on the fourth ballot. We do not know, but this would seem to indicate a lot of harmony and agreement among the Cardinals that they wanted to continue the line followed by Pope John Paul II. Who better qualified than his Number One Assistant for the last 24 years, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

So the fruits of the Conclave are that we now have, at the helm of our Church, a man of vast experience. At 35 years of age he was chosen to be an adviser to the German Bishops for the Second Vatican Council. After that he spent many years teaching Theology. Theology is literally the science of God, the knowledge of God. So before he could teach, he himself had to study and reflect and pray. Anyone who heard his brilliant sermon at the funeral of Pope John Paul II will know just how well the then Cardinal Ratzinger understands the Scriptures, which are the Word of God. He has spent his life reading them, listening to them and studying the writings of saints and scholars about the Word of God and preaching the Good News.

After teaching in many German Universities he became Archbishop of a large German diocese, Munich, in his native Bavaria. Then in 1981 he was called to Rome to head up the most important Department or Ministry or Congregation, that is, the Doctrine of the Faith. As the name indicates, it deals with the teaching of the faith, faith in Jesus Christ. It is concerned with discerning what is true and what is false, what is right and what is wrong. Nobody likes being told that they are doing wrong and that they are not speaking the truth. But what loving Father, who cares for his children, would deprive them of this guidance. Where this sort of guidance and discipline is not present, and is not respected, then there can be disastrous results, as people flounder about in confusion and ignorance. Cardinal Ratzinger’s job was to promote the teaching of the true faith and morals on behalf of the Church, on behalf of the Holy Father.

I met Cardinal Ratzinger in 1991 when he came to the Irish College to speak to the College Community. I found him most gracious and charming, humble and unassuming, clear and learned. I got the impression that he is a holy man, a man of prayer. He speaks and understands English perfectly. He is obviously a man who prays and works very hard. So when he describes himself as “a simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord”, he is stating what is a fact. He leads a simple lifestyle. He works consistently and seriously at the tasks entrusted to him. He, at the same time, realises that he has his limitations, as every human being has, but he puts his trust in the help of the Risen Lord,. As he said in his first words, he entrusts himself to the protection of Mary. He also relies on the assistance of our prayers, as he said on the first evening and again yesterday, he was humble enough and gracious enough to ask for those prayers.

I was thrilled to see that in his first message Pope Benedict XVI asks everyone to intensify, in the coming months, the love and devotion to the Eucharistic Jesus and to express, in a courageous and clear way, the real presence of the Lord. We are in the Year of the Eucharist and he asks this, in a special way of priests. Pope Benedict assumes, as his primary commitment, that of working tirelessly towards the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all Christian followers. This is his ambition, this is his compelling duty, he says, and to do this, concrete gestures are required. He is disposed to do all in his power to promote the fundamental cause of Ecumenism. This is music to my ears, and I hope it will help all of us here in Ireland.

The new Pope knows that his task is to bring the light of Christ to shine before men and women today. For Christ is the way, the truth and the life. There is no other way to God the Father except through Him. He is the way which we must all follow, but before we follow any way, we must know in truth, that this is the way that leads to life, eternal life.

The new Pope sends an affectionate embrace to young people. He is looking forward to meeting some of them in Cologne, in his native Germany, on World Youth Day in August. He says he will listen to their expectations in order to help them meet ever more profoundly, the living ever-young Christ.

Pope Benedict XVI says that he intends to serve only Christ and he dedicates himself to that task with his full power. This evening we ask God’s help for him in his new ministry and God’s help for ourselves that we too will dedicate ourselves and serve only the living Christ. We will not serve a God of wealth, a God of pleasure, a God of power but God of Jesus Christ and we will do that by responding, with all our abilities, to His love which He revealed to us when He died for us on the Cross.