At the closing of World Youth Day in Sydney this week, Cardinal Pell told Pope Benedict:
"Your Holiness, the World Youth Days were the invention of Pope John Paul the Great. The World Youth Day in Cologne was already announced before your election. You decided to continue the World Youth Days and to hold this one in Sydney. We are profoundly grateful for this decision, indicating that the World Youth Days do not belong to one pope, or even one generation, but are now an ordinary part of the life of the Church. The John Paul II generation, young and old alike, is proud to be faithful sons and daughters of Pope Benedict."
The John Paul II generation are now "proud to be faithful sons and daughters of Pope Benedict." These are truly encouraging words, and left me reflecting on the dynamic of the John Paul II cult of personality and how (and if) that popular support has effectively translated to Pope Benecdict, as Cardinal Pell suggested. Has Benedict received the same whole-hearted approval by the Church that was enjoyed by John Paul II?
I think there to some extent it is difficult to measure, because for so many youth John Paul II was the only pope they had ever known until recently. In such a case, how does one distinguish between the love of the pope as the Successor of Peter and love of John Paul II the man? For many (including myself) it was difficult, and the lines were often blurred. It was not until Benedict was elected when I was 24 that I realized that much of what I thought was devotion to the papacy as such was really devotion towards the man John Paul II. Seeing a new pope in office helped me to focus my devotion more on the papal office itself and my faith in the promise of Christ than in personality of the pope.
In many ways, the devotion of the people that was attached to John Paul II the man has translated onto Benedict XVI because of his close proximity with John Paul II personally and chronologically. And of course, many will always love the Successor of Peter simply by virtue of his office, and that is an honorable thing as well (though emotional attachment or "liking" of the pontiff ought not to be a criteria in deciding who is a faithful Catholic or not).
In the end, I think however that "sons and daughters of John Paul II" may not realize the full impact of the pontificate of BXVI because they have been conditioned to judge pontificates by differing standards. In my humble opinion, Benedict has already done a lot more for the improvement of the Church than John Paul did in his entire pontificate. If anyone deserves the title of "Great," it would be Benedict (and at this time, I do not think Benedict or John Paul merits such a title). The John Paul II generation, while loving Benedict, will look at his pontificate and wonder why he spent so much time on seemingly unimportant things like liturgy, relations with the SSPX, reconciliation with the East, canonical issues, curial changes, etc. For them, the essence of a successful pontificate is the number of miles traveled, the amount of large, open-air Masses done, the extent to which the pope is viewed as a "bridge-builder," and many like criteria.
Because of John Paul II, they have been coniditoned to view the late pope's behavior as the signs of a great pontificate, and may be unable to perceive the equally (and even more) important matters that Benedict XVI has spent his three years thus far attending to. Benedict has gave attention to things that languished under JPII and has spent some time fixing things that John Paul himself screwed up. So I don't think he will be measured with the same stick that JPII is measured by. I think that only when all those who grew up under John Paul II are old or dead, and we have seen a succession of a few more popes, will we get a true estimation of JPII's pontificate in comparison with Benedict's, just like we will not get an honest evaluation of Vatican II until every person involved in it is dead.
In the meantime, I thank God that the Church pledges its loyalty to this pontiff. He is a good and holy man, and the popes themselves are all in God's hand.