Praise for new pope

After taking the name Pope Benedict XVI, German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger greets the crowd Tuesday in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, Italy. Ratzinger was elected by 115 cardinals as the 265th pontiff. (KRT photo: Laurent Zabulon)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

The mood outside Guadalupe Catholic Church was jubilant. As bells tolled, announcing the start of evening mass, a group of smiling women chatted about German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was elected pope Tuesday and will serve the world’s billion-plus Catholics as Pope Benedict XVI.

“It’s so wonderful. I don’t feel like an orphan anymore,” said Rose Ann Martinez, a member of Guadalupe Catholic Church.

Since Pope John Paul II’s death 18 days ago, Martinez said she has found it hard to turn off the television.

“I saw the white smoke, then I saw the black smoke — I was so confused,” said Martinez, as members of her parish nodded and hummed in agreement. “I thought I wouldn’t find out until at least (today). I know he (Pope Benedict XVI) will take care of us. I think it’s wonderful.”

Louisa Maries agreed with her fellow church member.

“It’s hard to not to think about Pope John II when I see the new pope, but we have to see him as an individual who will lead us well,” Maries said.

The election of Cardinal Ratzinger brought debate in some circles — many voiced hopes the new pope would hail from Latin America, or represent a minority population; Catholics outside of the Guadalupe Catholic Church simply seemed relieved.

“He’s perfect — conservative and traditional. Since Western and Eastern churches are losing attendance, a pope from Europe was chosen,” John Smith said.

Ratzinger, 78, promises to enforce strictly conservative policies for the world’s Roman Catholics.

“Right now the church needs a very strong leader,” said Father Leonardo Pahamtang, who leads the Immaculate Conception Church Congregation of Muleshoe. Pope Benedict XVI, Pahamtang said, is tailored for the role.

Pahamtang’s foremost concern were issues of unity, or lack thereof, in the Catholic Church. He sees a Church torn apart by issues like gay marriage and increasing deviations from traditional Catholic teachings.

“We need to bring together different factions of the Church. Many Catholics are watering down the Church’s teaching to suit their needs. Cardinal Ratzinger will bring us back to the basics. He is a good transition pope,” Pahamtang said.

Pahamtang said he was also interested in seeing the Church scale down its grandiosity to identify more with the poor.

“Most of the world’s Catholics are poor. The Church has begun to identify more with the rich. I was hoping for Cardinal Humme — who would have worked hard for a preferential option for the poor,” Pahamtang said.