VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, the Roman Catholic Church’s leading hard-liner, was elected pope today in the first conclave of the new millennium. He chose the name Benedict XVI and called himself “a simple, humble worker.”
Ratzinger, the first German pope in centuries, emerged onto the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, where he waved to a wildly cheering crowd of tens of thousands and gave his first blessing. Other cardinals clad in their crimson robes came out on other balconies to watch him after one of the fastest papal conclaves of the past century.
“Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me - a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord,” he said after being introduced by Chilean Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estivez.
“The fact that the Lord can work and act even with insufficient means consoles me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers,” the new pope said. “I entrust myself to your prayers.”
The crowd responded to the 265th pope by chanting “Benedict! Benedict!”
Ratzinger turned 78 on Saturday. His age clearly was a factor among cardinals who favored a “transitional” pope who could skillfully lead the church as it absorbs John Paul II’s legacy, rather than a younger cardinal who could wind up with another long pontificate.
The new pope is the oldest elected since Clement XII, who was chosen in 1730 at 78 but was three months older than Ratzinger.
Cardinals also had faced a choice over whether to seek a younger, dynamic pastor and communicator - perhaps from Latin America or elsewhere in the developing world where the church is growing.
Ratzinger is the first Germanic pope in nearly 1,000 years. There were at least three German popes in the 11th century.
Benedict XVI decided to spend the night at the Vatican hotel, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, and to dine with the cardinals, said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. He was to preside over a Mass on Wednesday morning in the Sistine Chapel and will be formally installed on Sunday at 10 a.m. (4 a.m. EDT).
If Ratzinger was paying tribute to the last pontiff named Benedict, it could be interpreted as a bid to soften his image as the Vatican’s doctrinal hard-liner.
Benedict XV, who reigned from 1914 to 1922, was a moderate following Pius X, who had implemented a sharp crackdown against doctrinal “modernism.” He reigned during World War I and was credited with settling animosity between traditionalists and modernists, and dreamed of reunion with Orthodox Christians.
Benedict comes from the Latin for “blessing” and is one of a number of papal names of holy origin such as Clement (“mercy”), Innocent (“hopeful” as well as “innocent”) and Pius (“pious”).
The last pope from a German-speaking land was Victor II, bishop of Eichstatt, who reigned from 1055-57.
On Monday, Ratzinger, who was the powerful dean of the College of Cardinals, used his homily at the Mass dedicated to electing the next pope to warn the faithful about tendencies that he considered dangers to the faith: sects, ideologies like Marxism, liberalism, atheism, agnosticism and relativism - the ideology that there are no absolute truths.
“Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism,” he said, speaking in Italian. “Whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and ‘swept along by every wind of teaching,’ looks like the only attitude acceptable to today’s standards.
Ratzinger served John Paul II since 1981 as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In that position, he has disciplined church dissidents and upheld church policy against attempts by liberals for reforms.
He had gone into the conclave with the most buzz among two dozen leading candidates. He had impressed many faithful with his stirring homily at the funeral of John Paul II, who died April 2 at age 84.
Some have questioned whether the new pope betrayed any pro-Nazi sentiment during his teenage years in Germany during World War II.
In his memoirs, he wrote of being enrolled in Hitler’s Nazi youth movement against his will when he was 14 in 1941, when membership was compulsory. He says he was soon let out because of his studies for the priesthood.
Two years later, he was drafted into a Nazi anti-aircraft unit as a helper, a common fate for teenage boys too young to be soldiers. Enrolled as a soldier at 18, in the last months of the war, he barely finished basic training.
“We are certain that he will continue on the path of reconciliation between Christians and Jews that John Paul II began,” Paul Spiegel, head of Germany’s main Jewish organization, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
White smoke poured from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel and the bells of St. Peter’s pealed at 6:04 p.m. (12:04 p.m. EDT) to announce the conclave had produced a pope. Flag-waving pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square chanted: “Viva il Papa!” or “Long live the pope!”
The bells rang after a confusing smoke signal that Vatican Radio initially suggested was black but then declared was too difficult to call. White smoke is used to announce a pope’s election to the world.
It was one of the fastest elections in the past century: Pope Pius XII was elected in 1939 in three ballots over two days, while Pope John Paul I was elected in 1978 in four ballots in one day. The new pope was elected after either four or five ballots over two days.
“It’s only been 24 hours, surprising how fast he was elected,” Vatican Radio said.
The timing, more than an hour before the end of the afternoon session, indicated that the pontiff may have been chosen on the fourth ballot, although it was not immediately known. Voting began Monday night with a single ballot, and there were two ballots to be held Tuesday morning and afternoon.
The cardinals took an oath of secrecy, forbidding them to divulge how they voted. Under conclave rules, a winner needed two-thirds support, or 77 votes from the 115 cardinal electors.
After the smoke appeared, pilgrims poured into the square, their eyes fixed on the burgundy-draped balcony. Pilgrims said the rosary as they awaited the name of the new pope and prelates stood on the roof of the Apostolic Palace, watching as the crowd nearly doubled in size.
Niels Hendrich, a 40-year-old salesman from Hamburg, Germany, jumped up and down with joy and called his father on a cell phone before Ratzinger was announced. “Habemus papam!” he shouted into the phone, using the Latin for, “We have a pope.”
In the pope’s hometown of Traunstein, Germany, a room full of 13-year-old boys at St. Michael’s Seminary that Ratzinger attended jumped up and down, cheered and clapped as the news was announced.
“It’s fantastic that it’s Cardinal Ratzinger. I met him when he was here before and I found him really nice,” said Lorenz Gradl, 16, who was confirmed by Ratzinger in 2003.
Antoinette Hastings, from Kent Island, Md., rose from her wheelchair, grasping her hands together and crying. She has artificial knees, making it tough to stand.
“I feel blessed, absolutely blessed,” she said. “I just wish the rest of my family were here to experience this with me.”
After the bells started ringing, people on the streets of Rome headed from all directions toward Vatican City. Some priests and seminarians in clerical garb were running. Nuns pulled up their long skirts and jogged toward the square. Drivers honked horns and some people closed stores early and joined the crowds.
Police immediately tried to direct traffic but to little effect.
Ratzinger succeeds a pope who gained extraordinary popularity over a 26-year pontificate, history’s third-longest papacy. Millions mourned him around the world in a tribute to his charisma.
While John Paul, a Pole, was elected to challenge the communist system in place in eastern Europe in 1978, Benedict faces new issues: the need for dialogue with Islam, the divisions between the wealthy north and the poor south as well as problems within his own church.
These include the priest sex-abuse scandals that have cost the church millions in settlements in the United States and elsewhere; coping with a chronic shortage of priests and nuns in the West; and halting the stream of people leaving a church indifferent to teachings they no longer find relevant.
Under John Paul, the church’s central authority grew, often to dismay of bishops and rank-and-file Catholics around the world.
Pope John XXIII was 77 when he was elected pope in 1958 and viewed as a transitional figure, but he called the Second Vatican Council that revolutionized the church from within and opened up its dialogue with non-Catholics.
Benedict will have to decide whether to keep up the kind of foreign travel that was a hallmark of John Paul’s papacy, with his 104 pilgrimages abroad.
He may already be locked into one - to his home country: the mid-August Catholic youth day gathering in Cologne, Germany. John Paul had agreed to visit and organizers have already spent millions of dollars in preparations.
Navarro-Valls said he expected Benedict XVI would attend.
“It seems obvious,” Navarro-Valls told RAI television, noting that young people in the crowd had already started chanting “Benedict XVI” the way they chanted “Giovanni Paolo,” John Paul’s name in Italian. He added that he hadn’t discussed it with the new pope but that it seemed likely, since the event was in the pope’s homeland.
“With the new Holy Father, we can be assured of continuity with his predecessor and of a personality who will lead the church with great responsibility before God,” said Heiner Koch, the prelate in charge of the event.