When summer comes, the rhythm of work at the Holy See slows and the Pope’s agenda is less intense. This year, for the third time, Benedict XVI decided to spend Rome’s hottest months — July, August and September — at his residence in Castel Gandolfo, not in the northern Italian Alps. At the beginning of his pontificate, like his predecessor, John Paul II, he used to accept invitations to go to the north of Italy, to the mountains, on his vacation. But after he fell and fractured his right wrist in 2009, the German Pope decided to stay close to the Vatican (Castel Gandolfo is around 20 miles from Rome) to concentrate on writing. (Indeed, thanks to that unfortunate accident, he could not finish the second part of Jesus of Nazareth which was finally published a year later than planned. This summer, the Pope finished his trilogy, with the final volume dedicated to the stories of Jesus’ infancy. Now the book is being translated from the original German contemporaneously into seven most-spoken languages, including English.)
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of state, did vacation in northern Italy, telling journalists in Introd, a village in the foothills of the Alps where he was spending his vacation, that the Holy Father was “perhaps”working on a new encyclical. That information has not been officially confirmed by the Holy See’s press office.
The Pope spent his vacation in almost monastic style during July, with few public events — the Sunday Angelus, a concert and a Mass in Frascati. That changed in August, when the Pope was back to his more regular rhythm, though still less intensive than in the Vatican.
In that period, there were some familiar German accents in Castel Gandolfo. As every year, the Pope’s brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, came to visit him and passed several weeks with him.
The first event was a “Bavarian evening” with traditional music offered by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Freising, for Benedict’s 85th birthday, first celebrated on April 16 in the Vatican, but celebrated again this summer. A special train left Landshurt, Germany, on August 1. On August 3, for one evening, Castel Gandolfo became a little piece of Bavaria, with the Pope’s fellow countrymen filling the little town square dressed in traditional clothes: dirndl for women and shorts and socks for men. Somehow that was a “ticket” to enter the courtyard of Castel Gandolfo Palace. Some 450 members of the old Bayerischen Gebirgsschützen (mountain troop of Bavaria) saluted the Pope from the gate, observed from his window by the Pope’s brother.
A number of Bavarian artists were invited to perform for the Holy Father: horn blowers, famed Alpine choirs, dancers, and also poets. There was a prayerful atmosphere after the joyful presentation, with Marian prayers sung in a yodeling manner. For one hour the Pope must have felt like he was home, and he expressed that with his Vergelt’s Gott (“May God reward you”) in his remarks, calling Bavarian folklore “cheerful.”
“It is based on the fact that we are in harmony with the Creation, in harmony with the Creator himself, and this is why we know it is good to be man,” the Pope said. “It is true, we have to admit that God has made this easy for us in Bavaria: he has given us a world, a land so beautiful, that it is easy to recognize that God is good and to be happy.”
Happiness and joy are “legitimate,” he said, because “in saying ‘no’ to joy we render no service to anyone, we would only make the world darker. And anyone who does not love himself is unable to give anything to his neighbor; he cannot help him, he cannot be a messenger of peace. We know this from faith and we see it every day: the world is beautiful and God is good.”
The other touching moment was a violin concert offered by Caritas of Regensburg. The main artist of the evening was Thomas Beckmann, a distinguished cello player and a man with a great heart for his commitment to homeless people in Germany.
Germany has the strongest European economy and is known worldwide for its prosperity, so almost nobody could imagine that there are also people in Germany who have no place to live.
On one severe winter night in 1993, two women completely ignored by people dining in nearby restaurants died outside of exposure. The tragic event changed Beckmann, who decided to dedicate his talent and money to homeless people.
Now, in collaboration with Caritas of Regensburg, he promotes concerts to help collect money under the motto “Gemeinsam gegen die Kälte” (“together against the cold”). On a warm Saturday night in August (the 11th) when the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of St. Clare, another of Beckmann’s dreams came true: to stage a concert for Pope Benedict.
“Music is an expression of the spirit,” said the Pope, “of an inner place of the person, created for all that is true, good and beautiful. It is not by chance that music often accompanies our prayers. It makes our senses and souls resonate when we encounter God in prayer.”
The Holy Father recalled the importance of “divine claritas,” the shining beauty and vital force of the Creator which enlivens us and brings us to overcome ourselves.
“Today we have found this great claritas in a wonderful way, and it has illuminated us,” Benedict said. “Thus it is only a consequence that artists, starting from their profound experience of beauty, strive for goodness and in turn offer their help and support to the needy. They communicate the good that they have received as a gift, and it spreads through the world. And in this way human beings grow, become transparent and aware of their Creator’s presence and action.”
August finishes annually with the meeting of the Ratzinger Schülerkreis, an academic seminar with the former students of then-Professor Joseph Ratzinger. It was Ratzinger himself who created the Schülerkreis group to discuss theological topics with those who wrote their doctoral theses under him. The annual meetings have never been skipped, even when he became first prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and later Pope Benedict.
Since the very first year of the pontificate, the academic seminars are held in Castel Gandolfo at the Pope’s summer residence. For the past three years, that group has been accompanied by New Schülerkreis, students who have written their theses on Ratzinger’s theology. Among Ratzinger’s scholars were Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna; Auxiliary Bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke of Hamburg; and Bishop Berthélémy Adoukonou, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, together with teachers, parish priests, men and women religious and lay people.
This year the subject was the dialogue with Lutherans and Anglicans: Ecumenical results and questions in the dialogue with Lutheranism and Anglicanism, a subject very dear to the Holy Father. The seminar was held from August 30th to September 3rd.
The speakers at the seminar were Bishop Ulrich Wilckens of the Evangelical Church, an expert on the New Testament; Prof. Theodor Dieter, since 1997 director of the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg; and Dominican Charles Morerod, bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg. Among the invited guests was Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The fruits of the discussion on September 1 were the Pope’s invitation to a “purification of memory” and Archbishop Wilkens’ proposal of “mea culpa” of both Lutheran and Catholic sides on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which will be celebrated in 2017.
In his speech, Bishop Wilkens illustrated difficulties that are facing Christian churches and communities today.
“The real problem is the lifestyle of Christians today,” he said. “Many have very good intentions, but their lifestyle is modern and far from Christian. Such a mentality has been present for 200 years already. We need a new deep faith so unity can be possible.”
Father Stephan Horn, SVD, responsible for organization and for many years Prof. Ratzinger’s assistant, said that that seminar was one of the best. The subject of the next Schülerkreis seminar will be: The question of God in a secularized world.
How important and real this problem is was shown recently in the statement Ecumenism Now – One God, One Faith, One Church, written and signed by figures from the fields of politics, sports, culture and entertainment on September 5th, calling for unity between the Catholic and Protestant Churches.
The meeting concluded with a Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict for members of both Schülerkreis groups in the chapel of Mariapoli Centro in Castel Gandolfo.
“It is the truth that possesses us, it is something alive!” the Pope said. “It is not we who possess it; rather we are grasped by it… Today the idea of truth and that of intolerance are almost completely fused, and so we no longer dare to believe in the truth or to speak of the truth. It seems to be far away, it seems something better not to refer to. No one can say: I have the truth – this is the objection raised – and rightly so: no one can have the truth.
“Only if we allow ourselves to be guided and moved by the truth, do we remain in it. Only if we are, with it and in it, pilgrims of truth, then it is in us and for us.
“You must not limit yourselves to hearing the Word; you must put it into practice. This is a warning about the intellectualization of the faith and of theology. It is one of my fears at this time.”