May 19, 2024

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Vatican – Farewell to Benedict XVI: “Humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord”

(ANS – Vatican City) – Benedict XVI passed away at 9.34 a.m. today, 31 December 2022, at the residence of Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, which the 95-year-old Pope Emeritus had chosen as his residence after he renounced the Petrine ministry in 2013.

“With sorrow I inform that Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, passed away today at 9:34 a.m. in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican. Further information will follow as soon as possible,” says the note issued this morning by the director of the Vatican Press Office, Matteo Bruni.

Already in the past few days, the health condition of the Pope Emeritus had worsened due to advancing age, as the Press Office had reported updating on the development of the situation.

Pope Francis himself had wanted to publicly share the news about his predecessor’s worsening state of health at the end of his last general audience of the year, on 28 December last, when he had invited the people to pray for the Pope Emeritus, “very ill”, so that the Lord might console him and support him “in this witness of love for the Church until the end”. And in all the continents prayer initiatives had immediately multiplied with messages of solidarity and closeness, also from the non-ecclesial world.

Born in 1927, the son of a gendarme, into a simple and very Catholic family in Bavaria, Joseph Ratzinger was a leading figure in the Church of the last century. Ordained a priest together with his brother Georg in 1951, he became a doctor of theology two years later and in 1957 he obtained his licentiate to teach as a professor of dogmatic theology. He taught in Freising, Bonn, Münster, Tübingen and finally in Regensburg. With him passes away the last of the Pontiffs personally involved in the work of the Second Vatican Council. As a very young and already esteemed theologian, Ratzinger had closely followed the Council as an expert of Cardinal Frings of Cologne, who was close to the reformist wing.

In 1977, Paul VI appointed him as Archbishop of Munich at the age of 50 and a few weeks later created him Cardinal. In November 1981, John Paul II entrusted him with the leadership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It was the beginning of a strong partnership between the Polish Pope and the Bavarian theologian, destined to dissolve only with the death of Wojtyla, who until the very end refused Ratzinger’s resignation, not wanting to deprive himself of it. The most important work is certainly the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, a work that lasted six years and saw the light in 1992.

After Wojtyla’s death, the conclave of 2005 called to succeed him in less than 24 hours an already elderly man – he is 78 years old – universally esteemed and respected even by his opponents. From the loggia of St Peter’s Basilica, Benedict XVI presents himself as ‘a humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord’. Initially shy, he does not renounce travelling: his will also be an itinerant pontificate like that of his predecessor. One of the most touching moments was his visit to Auschwitz in May 2006, with the German Pope saying: “In a place like this, words fail, all that remains is a stunned silence – a silence that is an inner cry to God: Why could you tolerate all this?”.

Benedict XVI faces difficult journeys, confronts the galloping secularization of de-Christianized societies and internal dissent within the Church. He celebrates his birthday at the White House together with George Bush Jr. and a few days later, on 20 April 2008, he prays at Ground Zero embracing the relatives of the 9/11 victims.

As pope he continually speaks of the ‘joy of being Christian’, and dedicates his first encyclical to the love of God, Deus caritas est. ‘At the beginning of being a Christian,’ he writes, ‘there is not an ethical decision or a great idea, but the encounter with an event, with a Person’. He also finds time to write a book on Jesus of Nazareth, a unique work that will be published in three volumes. Among the decisions to remember are the Motu proprio liberalizing the pre-conciliar Roman Missal and the establishment of an Ordinariate to allow the Anglican communities to return to communion with Rome.

The last few years are marked by the re-exploding of the pedophilia scandal and Vatileaks, the leak of documents taken from the papal desk and published in a book. Benedict XVI is determined and tough in tackling the problem of ‘dirtå’ within the Church. He introduces very strict rules against child abuse, asks the Curia and the bishops to change their mentality. He goes so far as to say that the most serious persecution for the Church does not come from its external enemies, but from sin within it. Another important reform is financial: it is Pope Ratzinger who introduces anti-money laundering regulations in the Vatican.

In the face of scandals and ecclesiastical careerism, Germany’s Benedict XVI continues to make calls for conversion, penance and humility. During his last trip to Germany, in September 2011, he invited the Church to be less worldly: “Freed from material and political burdens and privileges, the Church can dedicate itself better and in a truly Christian way to the whole world, it can be truly open to the world…”.

In the ordinary consistory of 11 February 2013, he announced his resignation ‘from the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter’, with the See vacant on the 28th of the same month.

Source: Vatican News

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