Benedict Returns to Where He Worked 50 Years Ago…

In July, Benedict XVI visited the Society of the Divine Word’s house in Nemi, not far from his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. In 1965, Ratzinger, then in his 30s, stayed in the house to work on documents for the Second Vatican Council

Pope Benedict XVI in Nemi, Italy

Benedict XVI during a visit to the Society of the Divine Word’s Ad Gentes Center in the village of Nemi, Italy, July 9. At right is Father Heinz Kuluke, superior general of the missionary society. (CNS photo)

Pope Benedict began his summer vacation on July 3 at the papal summer villa of Castel Gandolfo outside of Rome. He immediately used the occasion for a brief “walk down memory lane”: a short trip on July 9 to a religious house in the nearby village of Nemi, in the Alban hills southeast of Rome, where he had stayed in the 1960s to work on documents for the Second Vatican Council. In those years, his legs were young and steady; on this trip, he used his cane when entering the center’s chapel and when walking the grounds (see photo).

The Pope said he had fond memories of the center, where he spent a week in the spring of 1965 working with three dozen other prelates to draft the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity (“Ad Gentes”).

Then-Father Joseph Ratzinger was a theological consultant during Vatican II and was appointed to an editorial commission, led by Divine Word Father Johannes Schutte, to help prepare the draft document of the decree.

Joseph Ratzinger in 1965 with Yves-Marie-Joseph Cardinal Congar


On the left, a younger Joseph Ratzinger in 1965 with Yves-Marie-Joseph Cardinal Congar, O.P. (1904-1995).

Father Schutte’s invitation to be part of the commission came as a surprise to 37-year-old Father Ratzinger, as “I was a very young theologian of no great importance,” the Pope said during an informal talk to Divine Word Fathers attending their general chapter meeting. Being in the company of so many eminent theologians and charged with “such an important and beautiful task to prepare a decree on mission” represented “spiritual enrichment and a great gift for me,” the Pope said, adding that it was “perhaps the most memorable” time he had during the whole Council.

Though there was a slight debate going on at the time, “which I never really understood,” as to whether the goal of mission was to “implant the Church” or proclaim the Gospel, all sides came together in “the need to bring the light of the Word of God, the light of God’s love to the world, and to give new joy to this message,” he said. The Pope said it is part of a Christian’s duty “to give to others the good that we have received.”

then-Father Joseph Ratzinger in a group picture, as a participant in a Vatican II Commission meeting in Nemi in 1965

Then-Father Joseph Ratzinger in a group picture, as a participant in a Vatican II Commission meeting in Nemi in 1965

He praised the flourishing of vocations in the Society of the Divine Word, which has more than 6,000 members in 70 countries. “Clearly missionary dynamism lives on and it lives only if there is Gospel joy and if we experience the good that comes from God that must and wants to be communicated,” he said.

Bringing God’s word to mission lands is successful only when missionaries live the Gospel with joy and share the love and goodness they receive from God, Pope Benedict XVI said.

“What is good has the inherent need to be conveyed, to give itself; it cannot stay closed up in itself (because) something good and goodness itself are essentially ‘communicatio,’” that is, sharing with others, he said.

Read the text of the address His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in Nemi, Italy, July 9, 2012.

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