Maj. Jacek Kowalik, interim Catholic chaplain at Yokota Air Base, Japan, stayed up until 3 a.m. Wednesday watching the news, waiting for the cardinals to end their conclave and announce their selection — Pope Benedict XVI.

About two hours later, Kowalik was summoned to work for the start of a military exercise.

“I felt like I was being recalled to Rome,” he joked. “But I had a feeling this might be the night. I won’t ever forget it. The excitement was just awesome.

“I wasn’t surprised with the person who got elected. I was surprised with the name, Benedict. I thought it would be Paul or Peter.”

Many U.S. military community members across the Pacific said Wednesday they weren’t surprised that conservative German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was selected as pope, theorizing that he will stick with tradition and not allow priests to marry or the church to ordain female priests.

Army Maj. Richard Bendorf, Area IV chaplain at Camp Walker, South Korea, said reaction in the Army’s Catholic community has been mixed, with some wondering what stance the new pope might take on the controversial issues.

Bendorf said the pope must deal with “the internal strains and the internal challenges within the church itself.”

“Meaning the ordination of women, the marriage of priests, the church’s position against homosexuality, and those type of issues that the church is constantly working to kind of resolve,” he said. “And I think that brings a lot of tension within the ranks of Catholics.”

On Okinawa, Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Sablada said that as a Catholic it’s motivating to him to “have someone who is very conservative” as the new pope.

Sablada said he thinks that morality is beginning to slide, and he hopes that a conservative pope can provide a Catholic-style moral center.

“I would say not much of a change as the new pope hasn’t given up all of the teachings he plans to pass on right now. I’m hoping any change will be for the better future of the Roman Catholic Church.”

Lt. Col. Ernie Savage, a Protestant chaplain at Misawa Air Base, Japan, believes the election of Ratzinger, with his deep conservatism, signifies the Catholic church intends to stay the course, at least for the time being.

“I see no change in the future,” he said. “Even though I’m a Protestant, the church and what happens in the world’s churches is of deep concern to me. Benedict XVI, our new Holy Father, will very much carry forth the polices of John Paul II and frankly, that’s why I think they elected him, to put off having to make some tough decisions.”

But at 78, Ratzinger isn’t “going to be pope forever,” Savage said. “He’ll make a good transitional pope.”

But Savage thinks the church, in sticking to traditional doctrine, may continue to struggle with a shortage of clergy in America, where Catholicism faces additional challenges.

“In our own military, we struggle to have enough priests to care for the Catholics we have on active duty,” he said, noting he’s aware of six bases in the United States that will be losing Catholic chaplains due to reassignments. “Overseas has a priority right now. There’s been no (overseas) assignment that I’m aware of that will not have Catholic coverage.”

Nonchaplains also were talking about Wednesday’s announcement.

“There he is,” said Pfc. Diana Calderon, during lunchtime Wednesday as the new pope appeared on one of about six televisions in the Main Street food court on Yongsan Garrison, South Korea.

Calderon and Pfc. Teresa Diane Roeske both are assigned to Company D of the 516th Personnel Service Battalion and were eating subs when they stopped to talk briefly about Benedict XVI.

“They look very old-school,” said Roeske about the appointment of the European pontiff. “It’s too predictable. It seems like a dead religion,” added Roeske, who described herself as Christian but not Catholic.

Sgt. Ron Angel, who is Jewish, said he was surprised, too, at the European appointment.

“I’m a little surprised about them picking a German pope,” said Angel, who works with the 176th Finance Battalion. “There had been talk about picking an African pope.”

Chris Kemnitz, a Defense Department civilian employee and practicing Catholic at Misawa, is opposed to allowing priests to marry, one reason why he believes Ratzinger was the best choice for pope.

“A priest has to take care of his parish,” he said. “If he’s married, he’s going to have the tendency to take care of his family. Instead, the parish becomes his family.”

Ratzinger “wants to keep the church on a moral keel — he’s a moral hardliner,” Kemnitz said. “He followed Pope John Paul II’s teachings to the T. One thing we didn’t want to … have is a drastic change and he’s not going to bring that. I support that.”

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