The following declaration was sent by Bishop Josef Homeyer, President of the Commission of Bishops' Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) on the occasion of the election of Pope Benedict XVI: "On behalf of the Bishops of the Commission of Bishops' Conferences of the European Community, I am delighted to offer our congratulations to the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI upon his appointment as Bishop of Rome and 265th successor to Saint Peter, Head of the Catholic Church and Patriarch of the Occident. The Conclave has elected one from within its own ranks, who as a priest and theologian is deeply rooted in the faith of the universal Church. For his pontificate - which is the first of the 21st century - we pray for God's blessing. As a theologian, Benedict XVI has a worldwide reputation of the highest order. He became a professor of Dogmatic and Fundamental Theology at a young age and held several chairs at German universities. At the Second Vatican Council he participated as an official Council Theologian (Peritus) and made a decisive contribution to the reform of the Catholic Church. As Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith he assumed responsibility for the preservation of the core of the Catholic faith, and to elucidate its authenticity in dialogues with other religious and philosophical traditions. The harmony between faith and reason has always been at the centre of his concerns. His clarity, his forthrightness and his courage to represent the truth of the faith - even when this truth was not popular - in discussion and dialogue have impressed us deeply. In the shaping of his pontificate, Benedict XVI will draw upon his rich pastoral experience. As a young priest in Munich, and as Archbishop of Munich and Freising, as well as Cardinal Bishop of the suburbicarian dioceses of Velletri-Segni and Ostia, and also throughout his other positions, he has come to know the thoughts and sorrows of the believers all over the world. In keeping with the spirit of the gospel, during his pontificate, he will also continue to undertake every effort to ensure that all human life is lived with dignity, justice and solidarity. In particular, the realisation and protection of peace in the world will be an important concern. We know from various statements of the Holy Father that the good of Europe is very important to him. Long before the start of his pontificate, Benedict XVI reflected on the concept and the reality of Europe. He has made declarations on the challenges that the EU faces, such as the evolution of biotechnology and the accession of Turkey. He is moved by questions of how the Christian faith can be animated in Europe, the continuation of that identity, and the protection and further development of human dignity. Benedict XVI will vehemently champion the unconditional priority of human dignity and human rights, the fundamental role of marriage and family in European society, and a sense what is sacred among Europeans. His conviction that Europe needs "a new - indeed a critical and humble acceptance - of itself" is vitally important for Europe and resonates with us all. At the beginning of the 21st century, Benedict XVI is particularly conscious of the challenges to the Church, both from within and from without. He will respond to these challenges and lead the church into the future with his deep faith and spiritual strength. Our prayers and blessings will accompany him on his way." Bishop Josef Homeyer is President of COMECE and Bishop em. of Hildesheim, Germany. COMECE is a commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conferences of the member states of the European Union.
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