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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 December 2006, 14:33 GMT
Benedict the unlikely pin-up pope
Patrick Jackson
BBC News

Benedict XVI, the shy former disciple of that most media-friendly of popes, John Paul II, has entered an area of the mass communications market that his predecessor apparently never tapped.

The Polish pope could easily have filled out a wall calendar had he wanted to.

A YEAR WITH THE POPE
Pope Benedict at the piano - the photo for December 2007 (image by permission of the photographer, Giancarlo Giuliani)

"He would have had his foreign journeys and St Peter's crammed from one end to the other as he made saints, and then he would have probably had himself doing lunch with his bishops and cardinals around him, tucking in and furiously debating stem cells or something," says veteran Vatican-watcher John Wilkins.

"With John Paul II, you hardly had time to breathe - when he went to America, his entourage called him the White Tornado. He was an actor, he loved the stage, he had enormous charisma."

Had such a calendar existed - and as far as Italian magazine Famiglia Cristiana is aware, it did not - there might well have been a glimpse of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger standing shyly in the background somewhere.

In his new incarnation as Pope Benedict XVI, John Paul II's former right hand man has come into the foreground, and he agreed this summer to be photographed for a charity wall calendar produced by the magazine.

It may seem a rather unlikely move for Benedict, the reserved super-intellectual, whose bookishness is held by some to have caused him to spark inadvertently the anger of Muslims this year with his Regensburg lecture.

But the result - a picture gallery of "The Pope Domestic", as John Wilkins puts it - looks quite in character.

Off your knees

Trusted photographer Giancarlo Giuliani shot all the photographs in a single day, during Benedict's holidays at his country palace near Rome, Castel Gandolfo.

I think the cardinals thought they were getting John Paul II Act II but they got someone completely different
John Wilkins

What we get is Benedict at prayer and at the piano, Benedict the theologian reading and writing, Benedict strolling about his ornate gardens and fountains, the sun lighting his silver hair and accentuating his dark eyes, a confident smile on his face.

What the pictures do not show is - anyone else. This is a pontiff who, unlike his predecessor, does not do breakfast Masses with invitees or power lunches with cardinals and bishops, says Mr Wilkins, former editor of UK Catholic weekly The Tablet.

He looks at his most active when playing the piano, which is located in one of Castel Gandolfo's more humble-looking rooms, a bare radiator close by.

And the closest he comes to making human contact here is, perhaps, in the picture of him on the phone.

When Pope Pius XII, who reigned during World War II, was on the telephone, John Wilkins notes, "you had to fall to your knees".

But these images of Benedict have nothing authoritarian about them, the former Tablet editor argues - just a sense of calm:

"With the papacy, the style is the man and the style here is 'the humble worker in the vineyard', stepping back to let others run the affairs of the day."

Time to breathe

In one picture, where Benedict is praying before the famous Polish icon of the Black Virgin of Czestochowa, you could be forgiven for mistaking him for John Paul.

Pope Benedict at prayer before the Black Virgin of Czestochowa (image by permission of the photographer, Giancarlo Giuliani)
Benedict is shown praying before a Madonna John Paul II revered

Otherwise, John Wilkins says, the pictures convey both the sharp contrasts between the two men's characters, and between their papacies:

"Benedict's is not a papacy of reforms. He doesn't see the need for that. For 24 years he was the right hand of John Paul II and it is not clear which one influenced the other over which events.

"The unwritten assumption of Benedict's reign is that the great questions of dispute about how the Church should be governed have been settled in a conservative way."

The message of the calendar, he says, is that this pope wants to give people "space to breathe".

Yet the smile always hovering on Benedict's face is enigmatic, the Tablet's former editor adds:

"I think the cardinals thought they were getting John Paul II Act II but they got someone completely different.

"They got a transitional pope - but transition to what? We don't know."




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