VATICAN CITY - Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, a hard-line guardian of conservative doctrine, was elected the new pope Tuesday evening in the first conclave of the new millennium. He chose the name Pope Benedict XVI and called himself “a simple, humble worker.”
Ratzinger, the first German pope since the 11th century, 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 as pope. Other cardinals clad in their crimson robes came out on other balconies to watch him.
“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. “I entrust myself to your prayers,” the pope said.
“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 by chanting “Benedict! Benedict!”
If the new pope was paying tribute to the last pontiff of that name, 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.”
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 turned 78 on Saturday.
The new pope 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.
Bells ringing from the Vatican earlier confirmed that cardinals had reached a decision and that, along with white smoke from the Sistine Chapel chimney, caused crowds in St. Peter's Square to chant, “Viva il Papa!” or “Long live the pope!”
The square quickly filled up as thousands of people began streaming in as word of the decision spread.
The conclave of 115 cardinals lasted for two days, and no conclave in the past century had lasted more than five days. The election that made John Paul II pope in October 1978 took eight ballots over three days.
“It’s very powerful to be in the place where St. Peter was martyred and to pray to the Lord for a worthy successor,” said Brother Mateo Lethimonier, 30, a monk from Argentina in a light blue robe and sandals who was among those on the square before the decision was announced.
He said he was praying for the cardinals to find “the one who loves Jesus most, the one who represents the church best.”
On Monday evening, black smoke that initially looked light enough to throw even Vatican Radio analysts off-guard poured from the chimney, disappointing a crowd of 40,000 pilgrims anxious for a sign that the cardinals had settled on a successor. That first puff followed the conclave’s initial vote.
“We thought it was white. Then it went black. I had a feeling of exhilaration followed by disappointment,” said Harold Reeves, a 35-year-old theology student from Washington, D.C.
There was similar confusion following a first smoke signal on Tuesday. Even the second signal was confusing at first, looking black and white at times before the decision was confirmed by the bells.
The smoke is part of a church tradition for electing a pope. White means a decision after a round of balloting, black means no clear decision.
Challenges ahead A quick decision in the first round of voting on Monday would have been a surprise. The cardinals have a staggering range of issues to juggle as they choose the first new pope of the 21st century — fallout from priest sex-abuse scandals, chronic shortages of priests and nuns, as well as calls for sharper activism against poverty and easing the ban on condoms to help combat AIDS.
The next pontiff also must maintain the global ministry of John Paul, who took 104 international trips in his more than 26-year papacy.
“Keep praying for the new pope,” said 82-year-old Cardinal Luis Aponte Martinez of Puerto Rico, who was too old to join the conclave, open only to cardinals under 80 years old.
It was the first time in more than a generation that crowds had stared at the chimney for the famous smoke and word of a new pope. In that time, the church has been pulled in two directions: a spiritual renaissance under John Paul, but battered by scandals and a flock pressing for less rigid teachings.