The English title of this document is powerful: the Last Testament. Certainly, this new collection of interviews with Pope Emeritus, edited by the German journalist-biographer Peter Seewald, whose simultaneous worldwide release is programmed on 9 September, will spark discussion and give food for thought.
The volume – explains Luigi Accattoli, who announced it through the Italian daily Corriere della Sera – touches on the most important stages of Ratzinger’s life: his childhood under the Nazi regime, the discovery of his vocation, the difficult years of war, his service in the Vatican and the strong bond he had had with John Paul II, his election to papacy along with the anxiety of his first days as successor of Peter, and finally, his decision to waive papacy. Benedict XVI talks also about his successor, Francis – an unexpected name for him on the eve of the conclave -, his human and papal figure. He also mentions things they have in common and those on which their opinions diverge.
In this book, Pope Emeritus rejects the criticism of those who considered him to be too “academic” and focused on studying and writing, and does not want to be considered a “restorer” in liturgy. He talks of his attempts to reform the IOR and about the scourge of pedophilia, pointing out the difficulties a Pope faces when he tries to address the problem of the “filth in the Church.” He tells how he secretly prepared his resignation and admits that he learned “with surprise” the name of his successor: he had thought of several names, “but not of him.”
Seewald has already collected – in three other volumes – his dialogues with Joseph Ratzinger (two of them date back to when he was cardinal, in 1996 and 2000, and one as Pope, called Light of the World. The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times, in 2010. The present document, however, will go down in history as the first text by a pope emeritus. Benedict XVI talks about his pontificate, the target of unscrupulous attacks both inside and outside the Roman Curia, which resemble those against medieval popes.
“I have never perceived power – says Ratzinger in the Last Testament – as a position of strength, but always as a responsibility, as a heavy and burdensome task. A task that compels one to wonder every day: have I been up to it?”
The book, explains the Italian publisher Garzanti, is “the spiritual testament, the intimate and personal legacy of the Pope, who more than anyone else has managed to attract both the attention of the faithful and of those who do not believe on the role of the Church in the Modern World. Also his choice to give up on papacy and relinquish power remains unforgettable, an unprecedented gesture destined to change the course of history forever.
During this long interview with Seewald, the Pope addresses for the first time the torments, the commotion and the tough moments that preceded his resignation; but he has answered with surprising sincerity also the many questions about his public and private life: his successful career as a theologian and his friendship with St. John Paul II, the days of Vatican Council II and his election to papacy, the scandals concerning sexual abuse in the clergy and the plots of Vatileaks. Benedict XVI talks about himself with great courage and candor, alternating personal memories to deep words that are full of hope about the future of the faith and Christianity. Reading his latest reflections today is a privileged opportunity to re-experience and listen to the thoughts and teachings of an extraordinary man capable of loving and amazing the world”.
Taking leave forever from the world on 28 February, 2013 on the balcony of the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo, Ratzinger said: “I am just a pilgrim who begins the last leg of his pilgrimage on earth. But I would like to keep working for the common good and the good of the Church and that of humanity, with my heart, with my love, with my prayer, with my reflection, with all my inner forces. And I feel a lot of support coming from your sympathy. Let us keep walking together with the Lord, for the good of the Church and of the world”.
A pilgrim whose permanent residence is now within the “Peter fence”, in the monastery Mater Ecclesiae in the Vatican gardens, has broke his silence only a few times. He did so recently, on 28 June, back – for the first time after his resignation – in the Apostolic Palace, which used to be his home during the years of his pontificate. Francis wanted to celebrate his 65th anniversary as a priest with him, in the Clementine Hall, in a simple and moving ceremony during which transparently emerged the genuine friendship that binds Ratzinger to his successor: “Thank you, Holy Father: for your goodness, since the first moment after your election, at any time of my life here, it strikes me, it really brings me, inwardly rather than in the Vatican gardens, with beauty, your goodness is where I live: I feel protected. Thank you also for your words of thanks, for everything. And let us hope that you will manage to keep walking the path of divine mercy together with all of us, showing the way of Jesus, to Jesus, to God.” These words have been developed in the book-interview, which is undoubtedly destined to become a bestseller.