POPE BENEDICT XVI … They said he was too old. They said that he was too controversial and that he made too many enemies to get the 2/3 votes necessary to be elected. They said he was following in the footsteps of an icon of the 20th century and that he was bound to suffer in any comparison with his predecessor.
Nonetheless, on the fourth ballot, the College of Cardinals overwhelmingly voted to select Cardinal Ratzinger as the successor to Pope John Paul VI. The new Pope chose the name of Benedict XVI.
In less than a year, the 78 year old pontiff has proven himself to be a worthy successor to the Polish Pope who is credited by many for helping to bring about the downfall of the Soviet Empire. While he was the Pope’s right hand man as the head of the Congregation of the Faith, Benedict XVI is his own man when it comes to his approach to dealing with the problems facing the Catholic Church and the World in the first decade of the 21st century. Internally, the new Pontiff is moving slowly, but firmly, to correct and rein in the abuses and excesses which plagued the Catholic Church – particularly the Church in the United States – during the last decades of the 20th century. His appointment of a battle-hardened veteran diplomat to the Middle East, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, to become the Vatican’s Ambassador to the United States suggests that major changes will be forthcoming in the Catholic hierarchy here in America.
What led me, however, to select Benedict XVI as man of the year is not the internal changes he is making (and will continue to make) in the administrative operations of the Catholic Church.
He is my man of the year because I believe that Benedict XVI has a clearer understanding of the threat posed by militant Islam (and how best to combat it) than our own policymakers in Washington, DC. Benedict XVI understands that Western Europe – once the cradle of Christian civilization – is in danger of committing demographic suicide, given a secularized culture that has little room for God or religious values. Benedict XVI refers to that dominant secular culture of Europe as having fallen prey to "the dictatorship of relativism", and he seeks to encourage Europeans to re-discover their Christian roots and stem the demographic tide of Islam.
At the same time, the new Pope is taking a tougher line than his predecessor in confronting a growing Islamic militancy. He is reaching out to eastern Orthodox leaders in Russia, Serbia, Greece, Turkey, and elsewhere who have a common interest in preserving what is left of Christianity in Europe and resisting the Islamization of Europe. Benedict XVI also has opened lines of communications with traditional Anglicans and Evangelicals in Europe who share common ground with him on many issues. Europe is pivotal in the historical conflict between Christianity and Islam which once again is rearing its ugly head in the 21st century. Benedict XVI is signaling that only a re-Christianized Europe is capable of responding to the challenge of a resurgent, militant brand of Islam determined to impose its religious ideology on peoples and nations of the world. This may seem like an impossible quest, but then so did the idea of the collapse of the Soviet Empire sound in the early 1980s when a Polish Pope and a Hollywood actor turned President set about making that vision become a reality.