Every Pontiff leaves an indelible mark in the history. His life, words, and the gestures he makes remain engraved forever and are systematically re-read, re-studied, and re-interpreted. The life of a Pope fascinates and deserves to be understood also centuries later. Benedict XVI, called “emeritus” at present, is actually the second last pope in the history of the Church. He is in good health despite his advanced age and despite having retired to contemplative life. On the occasion of his 65th anniversary of priesthood he spoke again, addressing Pope Francis, with the following words: “Thank you Holy Father for your goodness, which impresses me and leads me forward. That is the place where I live and feel protected and it comes before the beauty of the gardens. We hope you can keep guiding us and showing us the way of Divine Mercy. Let it be a world of life.”
The humanity manifested by Benedict XVI as he thanked Bergoglio for having “protected” within the Vatican walls was moving. Through his meekness, Ratzinger showed again a humble heart full of gratitude to the Church and to the whole world. Joseph was born in Marktl am Inn (Germany) on April 16, 1927 and spent his childhood and adolescence in Traunstein, a small village close to the border with Austria. In this environment, which he describes as “Mozartian”, he received his Christian, human, and cultural education.
Faith and family education prepared him for the harsh experience of those times, that is, Nazism. Young Joseph always remembers the incidents of persecution and ill-treatment his pastor suffered at the hand of the Nazis. It was in this situation that he discovered the beauty and truth of faith in Christ. Supported by his family, from 1946 to 1951 he studied philosophy and theology at the Higher School of Philosophy and Theology in Freising and at the University of Munich. He was ordained as a priest on June 29, 1951.
Just one year later, Father Ratzinger began his career as a professor at the same school where he had stidied. Then, he taught in Bonn, Münster, Tübingen, and Regensburg, where he also held the office of Vice President of the University. His first publications, including Introduction to Christianity, which were to become a best-seller of theology, date back to this period of his academic ascent.
His expertise earned him the title of “expert” during the Second Vatican Council, years he lived as a confirmation of his vocation, which he described as “theological”. In 1977, Pope Paul VI – now a Saint – appointed him Archbishop of Munich and on June 27 of the same year, he made him a Cardinal.
Already a rapporteur of several Synods, he becomes the right hand of John Paul II in 1981, when John Paul II appointed him Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Cardinal Ratzinger was entrusted with the meditations of the Via Crucis in 2005, celebrated at the Colosseum. No one will ever forget that night. John Paul II clung to the crucifix in a poignant “icon” of suffering and listened in silent meditation to the words of the man who was to become his successor.
Joseph Ratzinger was elected on April 19, 2005. Since then, the Church has begun its period of renewal. Benedict XVI reviews the government of the Curia and works hard, together with his predecessor, to cultivate ecumenical dialogue, the fight against “cultural relativism” and pedophilia inside the walls of the Church. A difficult pontificate, often misunderstood, opposed by many people. Yet, history will remember him mainly due to his sudden resignation on February 11, 2013. The world’s eyes are focused and excited to see that helicopter overflying St. Peter’s dome. All the bells in Rome greet the Vicar of Christ. The front gate of Castel Gandolfo, while welcome, is closed by two Swiss Guards with tears in their eyes.
Since 2013, two popes have been residing in the Vatican. Pope Francis, who is currently in office, and Pope Emeritus. Congratulating the latter, Bergoglio recalled that Benedict XVI “continues to serve the Church and has never really stopped contributing to its growth; he does so from a little monastery, thus proving that it is not one of those forgotten corners where today’s culture of waste is used to relegate people when they grow old and their strength fails. Quite the contrary.”
Bergoglio has recently written a foreword to a book by his predecessor, entitled Teaching and Learning the Love of God, edited by Pierluca Azzaro and Carlos Granados, with an introduction by Cardinal Müller, published by Cantagalli. In those pages, Bergoglio writes: “Through his witness, His Holiness Benedict XVI shows us what true prayer means: not the occupation of a few people considered particularly devout and perhaps considered ill-suited to solve practical problems; that action many of us consider to be the key element of our priestly service, thus relegating prayer to leisure time. No. Prayer is a decisive factor: it is an intercession the Church and the world need more than ever, like bread, even more than bread”.
With his 65 years of priesthood, Ratzinger edifies the people of God again, with his specific mission of Pope Emeritus. His testimony of fraternity and loyalty is thus a slap in the face of the many backbiters who still hope the Church falls into disgrace.