"This rustic mohair, jointed bear embodies everything that makes Bavaria lovable," says The Toy Shop website of Steiff's Mohair Bavarian Teddy Bear Max. We stumbled onto him while googling the identification of that limited edition Hermann Spielweren Pope Benedict XVI teddy bear the other day, the one whose warmth, humanity and cuddliness reminded us of the Holy Father himself. This winsome -- theologian George Weigel's word for Papa Ratzi's public personality -- little fellow has something of Benedetto about him too (see photo below).
"The real Ratzinger, not the myth, is among the most kindhearted, understanding, cordial, even timid men that I have known," Italian journalist Vittorio Messori wrote of the Bavarian Pope shortly after Papa Ratzi ascended the Throne of Peter April 19, 2005. "The pope I have seen for the past three years is the Joseph Ratzinger I have known for 20 -- a holy and brilliant priest who knows who he is, a master teacher with remarkable skill in explaining complex Christian doctrines and a quite winsome public personality," says theologian George Weigel, quoted among many quotable quotes in USA Today. "In a word, the pope is a paradox," adds historian Brennan Pursell, author of Benedict of Bavaria: An Intimate Portrait of the Pope and His Homeland, whose "exhaustively researched book discusses how the Holy See's Bavarian background has influenced and motivated him throughout his life," writes Richard Liebson of LoHud.com:
A professor at DeSales University, a Catholic liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, and a frequent visitor to Bavaria, Pursell agrees that Benedict "toes the traditional Catholic line," but bristles at media descriptions of the pontiff as "God's Rottweiler," or "the Panzer Kardinal," that began when he served as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope John Paul II. Pursell argues that those labels had more to do with the duties of the "protector of the faith" than the man who performed them . . .
"The job doesn't define the human being," Pursell said. "He has a different role now than he did then, and I think the world is seeing a different side of him now . . .
"He is a bona fide genius, a world-class intellectual, who throughout his life has persistently identified himself with the culture and communities of small-town, rural Bavaria. His piety, his religious views and his humanity are very much those of a simple small town Bavarian kid."
"A writer once said that angels can fly because they don't take themselves too seriously. [ G.K. Chesterton's original: "Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly."] Maybe we could also fly a bit if we didn't think we were so important," the Vicar of Christ told a Deutsch Welle radio interviewer a couple of years back. (Gregorio Borgia/The Associated Press)
"While he is known throughout the world as 'the German pope,' Benedict is actually a son of Bavaria, which most Germans and virtually every Bavarian will tell you are two different things," continues LoHud.com, giving a "Breezing through Bavaria" guided tour of Joseph Ratzinger's homeland:
Located in southeast Germany, the "free state of Bavaria," as it calls itself, is a tradition-bound land of fairy tale castles and sweeping Alpine scenery, where church steeples dot the countryside and elaborate crucifixes are found in most farm fields. The largest producer of hops in the world, Bavaria is home to the original Oktoberfest in Munich . . .
The largest state in Germany, today's Bavaria boasts one of the country's strongest economies and highest education levels, but is still best known for its music and art festivals, museums, folklore, and beer . . .
Unlike those of any other German state, Bavaria's constitution provides for Bavarian citizenship, and its government spends millions of Euros to preserve its culture. In a country that has been mostly Protestant since German Martin Luther's challenge of papal authority in 1517 led to the Reformation, Bavaria has remained staunchly Catholic.
The current pope's low-key, scholarly persona is often contrasted -- not always favorably -- with his predecessor's dramatic flair. "If John Paul weren't a pope, he would have been a movie star. If Benedict weren't a pope, he would have been a university professor," said the National Catholic Reporter's John Allen in that Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life blogged here the other day, as reported by Scripps:
Nevertheless, it would "be a mistake to believe that Benedict is simply incapable of talking in pictures when he has a point he wants to make or that kind of flair for the just-right dramatic gesture," said Allen, speaking at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
The question, of course, is whether Benedict will make any dramatic gestures during his upcoming visit to Washington and New York City. While politicos will insist on sifting his texts for any sound bites that might affect the White House race, Allen and another Vatican expert said it would be wiser to focus on Benedict's April 18 speech at the United Nations.
Any defense of human rights, stressed Weigel, requires the use of a "word that Benedict XVI has brought into the Vatican's inter-religious dialogue in a powerful way -- reciprocity. If there is a great mosque in Rome welcomed by the leadership of the Catholic Church, why not a church in Saudi Arabia? If we recognize the freedom of others to change their religious location as conscience dictates, that needs to be recognized by dialogue partners as well."
Fordham University professor of communication and media studies Lance Strate, quoted in that USA Today article, caught our eye -- and our imagination -- with this thought:
But, Strate says, if cameras catch the pontiff when his brown eyes are intently engaged and "if people listen to his words," Benedict could become his own kind of papal star.
The words of the Holy Father in his Wednesday Audience today [via James H of Opinionated Catholic] resonate. He spoke of the life and times of a man whose "biographer" -- St. Gregory the Great -- had called him a "luminous star" and a way out of the "dark night of history," St. Benedict, founder of Western monasticism and Patron of Benedict XVIs pontificate:
Writing in a time of turmoil and moral decadence following the fall of the Roman Empire, Pope Gregory believed that the life and Rule of Benedict could be a light leading the people of Europe out of darkness . . .
Europe today -- just emerging from a century profoundly wounded by two world wars and the collapse of major ideologies that proved to be tragic utopias -- is in search of its identity. To create a new and lasting unity, political, economic and juridical instruments are certainly important, but an ethical and spiritual renewal drawing from the Christian roots of the continent must also be inspired, otherwise Europe cannot be reconstructed.
Let there be light.
Update: "This sums it up," writes our imail correspondent:
Like Jesus, himself, the Pope is "a holy and brilliant priest who knows who he is, a master teacher."
Update II: Garbo talks! (Video Message of Pope Benedict to the US)
Update III: The gist of the text of that video message.
Update IV: The Anchoress links:
Cuddly Benedict . . . whenever I see the man I want to make him a cup of hot tea and ask him what he’s been reading, lately.
Be sure to read the whole thing. Full of her usual meaty one-liners with links.