ROME, Italy April 19, 2006 — -- For a year, many have wondered what runs behind the cool, pastoral gaze of Pope Benedict XVI.
On the anniversary of his election as leader of the Catholic Church, the world got a sense of the person behind the image.
His voice trembled with emotion as he addressed pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter's Square. Incredibly, a crowd of nearly 50,000 had assembled to bear witness to his first anniversary. They listened as the German pontiff remembered the day he stepped out on the balcony overlooking the square and into the world spotlight:
"How time passes. Already a year has gone by since the cardinals so unexpectedly chose my poor person to succeed the late and beloved great pope John Paul II," he said.
On April 19, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI and at once faced two formidable challenges: how to live up to expectations after the long papacy of popular John Paul II, and how to live down his reputation as a tough, uncompromising conservative who, for years, had been the chief defender of church doctrine.
In the year since Ratzinger became Pope Benedict, he has steadily demonstrated that while he is nothing like the charismatic, evangelizing John Paul II, he is a force in his own right. He is not afraid to tackle difficult issues or make tough decisions.
Pope Benedict supported a ban on potential priests with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies." Yet his first encyclical focused on love and charity.
In contrast to John Paul II's globe-trotting ways, Benedict has been a stay-at-home pope. He has limited meetings with world leaders and visitors, and turned to the extremely important -- some would say boring -- issues of running the Vatican.
The crackdown on dissenters that many Catholics thought would come hasn't materialized. There haven't been any great purges. From the outside it looks a lot like business as usual. The pope came under criticism for removing Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald from his role inside the Vatican. Fitzgerald is an Islamic expert and was moved to Egypt to serve there as Papal Nuncio.
Despite his aloof, sometimes cool demeanor, Pope Benedict has also displayed a deft human touch. Quite often, the pope has arrived at an event and instead of following a written speech, he has turned to the audience and fielded questions.
In October, the pope did just that with a group of children receiving their First Holy Communion. He did it again in the closed-door consistory of cardinals in March.
"Benedict XVI succeeds in facing difficult problems with immediacy, using simple words to reply to deep questions," said the vicar of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, in an interview with "Famiglia Christian." "We cardinals experienced this during the consistory, during that day of reflection on the problems of the church."
As the first anniversary of his papacy approached, many people still viewed Pope Benedict as a bit of an enigma. So perhaps it is fitting that on his anniversary. the pope defined himself.
In that emotional speech to the large crowd in St. Peter's, he said: "I ask everyone to pray to God that I may be the gentle and firm pastor of his church."