Everything you probably didn′t know about former Pope Benedict XVI as he turns 90 | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 13.04.2017
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Everything you probably didn't know about former Pope Benedict XVI as he turns 90

He was regarded as aloof and conservative - as a "transitional pope." Indeed, his eight-year papacy, which ended with his resignation, was relatively short. Here are little known sides of the German pope.

"We are the Pope!" was the unforgettable headline from the "Bild" tabloid newspaper on April 20, 2005, one day after Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected to head the Catholic Church, and thus the Vatican.

The 115 cardinals that make up the papal conclave needed barely two days to decide who was to succeed the extremely popular and charismatic Pope John Paul II. When the infamous white smoke rose from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, and Cardinal Ratzinger was appointed Pope shortly thereafter, many believers and commentators were astonished. A German pope, already 78 years old, and also media shy, aloof and modest?

Bild headline Wir sind Papst! (dapd)

Germany celebrated the first German pope since the 16th century

Humble worker

The dignitaries themselves were surprised when the new Pope first addressed the faithful from the balcony at St. Peter's: "Dear Brothers and Sisters," he began, "after the great Pope John Paul II, the Cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord. The fact that the Lord knows how to work and to act even with inadequate instruments comforts me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers."

When Ratzinger chose for himself the name Pope Benedict, he became the 16th pope with this name, the most recent being Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922). 

Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger was born in 1927 in Marktl, Bavaria, the second son of a devout family. After his ordination into the priesthood and the completion of a doctorate in theology, he taught as a professor at universities in Tübingen and Regensburg.

Already in 1977, Ratzinger became Archbishop of Munich and Freising. In 1981, Pope John Paul II named him the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, giving him greater responsibility. The then Pope had asked him three years before, but Ratzinger wanted time to think about it. John Paul II reiterated his appeal: "I now must absolutely have you."

Pope John Paul II (left) and Joseph Ratzinger in 1979 (picture-alliance/dpa)

Pope John Paul II (left) and Joseph Ratzinger in 1979

Longing for peace

Cardinal Ratzinger remained in this position at the Vatican until his own election to the papacy. Three years earlier, at age 75, he asked John Paul II to be released from his position so that he could devote himself to writing at his Bavarian home. His boss demanded he stay. 

Pope Benedict XVI had many competing visions. In ecumenism and also in his relations with world religions, he wanted to promote dialogue - projects which he only partially realized.

A particularly severe crisis hit in 2010 when a wave of child abuse scandals in Catholic institutions in the US and Ireland also seized Germany, with the pope delaying an official Vatican apology. His Regensburg speech, in which he linked Islam to violence, was also controversial.

A 'transitional pontiff'

Due to his advanced age, he resigned from his post in February 2013, and was replaced shortly thereafter by Pope Francis of Argentina.

Even if many people have already referred to Benedikt XVI as a "transitional pontiff" because of his age, he knew he had a clear, largely conservative direction to follow.

But what else, beyond world politics, religious crises and questions of faith, made Pope XVI interesting and unique? And what about the human side of the first German on the papal throne since the 16th century?

The picture gallery above reveals some little-known insights into the former pontiff for his 90th birthday on April 16.

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