When Pope Benedict XVI declares Pope John Paul II “blessed” on May 1, bestowing on his predecessor the Catholic Church’s highest honor short of sainthood, millions will watch from St. Peter’s Square, on television and on the Internet. John Paul’s beatification, which was officially announced last week, will be an occasion for recalling his eventful reign, and it will inevitably inspire comparisons with the man who now sits in his place. In many eyes, those comparisons will not prove favorable to Benedict.
The current pope is low-key, as Americans discovered during his 2008 visit. For all his charm, he lacks the gregariousness, physical presence and gift for the dramatic gesture with which the former actor John Paul could win over crowds.