Papal Trip Called 'Test'

Pope Benedict XVI is expected to attract up to a million people to the World Youth Day celebration in Cologne, Germany, and, says one expert, the trip is being watched closely by observers to see how comfortable the pontiff seems in his still-new role.

Margaret Hebblethwaite, a writer for the Catholic magazine, The Tablet, has been covering the Vatican for many years.


The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith Thursday this is a "a very important visit. It's a kind of test for him in a way.

"He began his pontificate a bit nervous about coming off (succeeding) Pope John Paul II, saying, how could you possibly follow such a great pope? But, we get the feeling that he's determined to enjoy it. He talks about being enthusiastic about the trip. It is, after all, his homeland.

"And, whatever nerves he has about meting young people, and he always has found that a little bit daunting, he does know that as pope, wherever he goes, people cheer him and they think he's wonderful, and that happens to anyone, whoever they are, once they become pope."

The symbolism of the Holy Father giving a speech at a riverfront is intentional, Hebblethwaite says.

"Whatever he does," she explains, "he's very much aware that he's there to proclaim the message of Christianity, which is something he profoundly believes in. And he comes out with his own beautiful phrases about Christianity.

"He said in a recent interview … that he wants to communicate to young people how beautiful it is to be Christian, because it's like having wings. If he can come up with phrases like that, I think he'll make a hit."

During the trip, the pontiff is scheduled to go into a synagogue and become only the second pope ever to go inside a Jewish sanctuary.

Again, no accident, Hebblethwaite says. "It's very important to him that he is a bridge builder, and although, in his former job, everything he did was doctrinal and getting things cut and dried, cutting people down to size, getting everything very accurate," she says, "as pope, he really is trying to proclaim a different message, to be acting in a way that reconciles people, that infuses people, (He's also trying to) get away from, not put aside his hard-line opinions, but communicate a different tone, and I think he's very, very much committed to humanism, perhaps a little less so to dialogue between religions but still, he'll be wanting to put over a very positive message. I don't think we can expect anything dramatically new in the visit to the synagogue."