September 2, 2005


World Youth Day reveals the personal style of Pope Benedict

The World Book Dictionary defines an introvert as “a person more interested in his own thoughts or feelings than in what is going on around him; a person tending to think rather than act and so having qualities attributed as shy and unsociable.” An extrovert, on the other hand, is defined as a person who tends to act rather than think and who is, therefore, seen to be more outgoing and personable.

Pope John Paul II was clearly an extrovert—someone who was energized by people and activity. Even in his old age and infirmity, the late pope was easily able to connect with the crowds of people who gathered around him—sometimes communicating with only the simplest words or gestures.

His successor, Pope Benedict XVI , seems to be an introvert. During his public appearance at the recent World Youth Day celebration in Cologne, Germany, the new pope’s way of connecting with the crowds was different. There were no grand gestures—just his warm smile and earnest conviction that his message was important and timely. Papal spokesman Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said it this way: “John Paul expressed himself in gestures; this pope gives great space to words. This will be a pontificate of concepts and words.”

Of course, we mustn’t place too much emphasis on these differences of style. John Paul II may have been an extrovert, but as a philosopher he clearly valued careful thinking. And his long pontificate was filled with some of the most profound “concepts and words” ever proclaimed by a Roman pontiff.

Similarly, by all accounts, during World Youth Day 2005, Pope Benedict XVI clearly overcame his native shyness, and he succeeded in the very difficult task of making a connection with the 1 million young people who came to pray with him at Marienfeld. As reported by John Thavis of Catholic News Service, the young people who encountered the Holy Father in Germany “were unanimously impressed with his kindness, his intelligence and, above all, his personal interest in their lives.”

Still, as an introvert the new pope is naturally going to be more focused on his message than on “what is going on around him.” He takes seriously his role as the chief teacher and pastor so what he had to say to the young people in Cologne was paramount. “Open wide your hearts to God! Open the doors of your freedom to his merciful love! Share your joys and pains with Christ, and let him enlighten your minds with his light and touch your hearts with his grace. Dear young people, the happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy, has a name and a face: It is Jesus of Nazareth, hidden in the Eucharist. Only he gives fullness of life to humanity.”

World Youth Day 2005 showed that the successor of St. Peter does not have to be a media superstar. He doesn’t have to be a poet or an athlete or an extrovert. It’s OK to be a shy pope, a scholar and an introvert. If your smile is genuine and your message is clear (and true to the Gospel), people of all ages, races and cultures will respond from the heart.

More than 170 of us, pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, greeted Pope Benedict XVI in Cologne—and prayed with him (and 1 million others) at Marienfeld. We bear witness to the new pope’s effectiveness as a teacher and a pastor. In spite of his shyness, he showed us his kindness, his intelligence and, above all, his personal interest in our lives. He shared with us his message and invited us to open our hearts to Christ and discover in him the happiness we all seek.

This will be a pontificate of words and concepts rather than bold gestures. But if World Youth Day 2005 is any indication, the words will be beacons of hope and the concepts will be profoundly simple exhortations to live freely and be happy in Christ.

We welcome the distinctive pastoral style of this shy, scholarly successor of St. Peter. We pray that God will grant him many moments of peace and quiet—to balance his very public ministry and to sustain him as our chief teacher and pastor for many years to come.

Daniel Conway 

 (Daniel Conway is a member of the editorial committee of the board of directors of Criterion Press Inc.)


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