Pope Benedict XVI's image in America

April 14, 2008 12:29:51 PM PDT
To understand Pope Benedict XVI, the leader of more than a billion Catholics worldwide, we retraced his steps in Rome when the Holy Father was a cardinal. To those who know him well, Pope Benedict XVI is one of the most misunderstood popes of all time.

To get to know Pope Benedict XVI, we traveled through the cobble streets of Rome, searching for those closest to the pope. It led us to the outskirts of the Vatican, at the home of newly retired French Cardinal named Paul Poupard.

Poupard has collected art work from around the world during his travels as head of the Vatican's Council for Culture. He was responsible for reaching out to other religions. Like Pope Benedict XVI, he is an accomplished scholar and author. It is one of the many reasons the two instantly hit it off.

"When I was called to run Council for Culture, I insisted on having Cardinal Ratzinger as member of the council," he said.

Poupard says the pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was always prepared, well organized and precise. But most importantly, Poupard says, he was open minded.

However, many Catholics believe Cardinal Ratzinger tried to drown out new ideas and was resistant to change. He famously earned the nicknames "Cardinal No" and "God's Rotweiller."

"The United States has negative view of Cardinal Ratzinger, given his past task of keeping the faith pure," Poupard said. "But his job is no longer to defend the faith, but to promote it."

Despite Pope John Paul II's enormous popularity, he too faced the same criticisms as pope. In fact, Cardinal James Stafford says the turning point for Pope John Paul II was 14 years into his reign, during his visit in Denver.

"He's a man of great warmth," Cardinal Stafford said. "Wonderful sense of humor, quiet."

Cardinal Stafford is one of the highest ranking members of the Vatican government. As the Archbishop of Denver back in 1993, Stafford organized the pope's World Youth Day event, where a million young people turned out to see the pontiff.

When the pope arrived on Butterfly Hill, Stafford says, it was that moment that America's love affair with John Paul II began.

"Denver truly was a miracle," Cardinal Stafford said. "That miracle was the change in the perception of John Paul II. I think that that can happen during this five-day visit of Benedict XVI to the United States."