“Currently, he’s the Vatican’s contemplative one, who is spending is life praying for the church and for the diocese of Rome, of which he is emeritus bishop.” —Pope Francis, speaking today about Pope Benedict XVI, who was ordained a priest 70 years ago today, in 1951
Above, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger next to St. Peter’s Square, with his brother Fr. Georg Ratzinger, and his sister, Maria Ratzinger, in the Square behind him, on a sunny day in what seems to be the early- or mid-1960s. He turned 40 years old in 1967.
Letter #39, 2021, Tuesday, June 29: Benedict
I have an old picture of Fr. Joseph Ratzinger in my computer photo archive. (above)
He is standing in the colonnade that encircles St. Peter’s Square, smiling at the camera.
Behind him in the piazza are standing his older sister, Maria, and his older brother, Fr. Georg Ratzinger. Some people are strolling across the Square, and there is a 1960s car driving across the cobblestones. I think it must be a photo taken in about 1965 or so, when Joseph, born in April of 1927, would have been 38, but I am not really sure. Perhaps it is in 1962, or 1968.
I am struck by how young Joseph looks, and how happy.
Benedict’s 70th Anniversary as a Priest
Today is the 70th anniversary of the day in June in 1951 (so, June 29, 1951, to June 29, 2021) that Joseph was ordained a priest of God.
I use that precise phrase, “a priest of God,” because I just read it in my father’s journal, where my father writes, at the age of 17, while in the Franciscan minor seminary at Callicoon, New York, in 1943, that he would make every sacrifice to make himself worthy of the “highest calling”: to become “a priest of God.” (Of course, he did not remain in seminary, and was not ordained, but was married, and had a son (me)… but I remember that he still would speak of the priesthood as “the highest calling.”)
A priest is, in a certain sense, a self-made sacrifice to God.
The priest offers himself, his whole life, all his hopes and dreams, to “that than which nothing greater can be conceived,” that is, to the ultimate reality, God… unconditioned, self-subsistent being, source of every other derivative, contingent reality, “Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.”
The priest gives his whole life, his whole will, his every hope and aspiration, to the very highest purpose… the redemption of the world, and of the souls in the world…
I had perhaps 30 long, one-hour conversations with Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI over the years, most of them in the mid-1990s, and I chose to put him on the cover of Inside the Vatican magazine many times, because he was continually under attack. I felt I needed to defend him, as a cardinal, as a Pope, and as a friend. When he was elected Pope, and the world’s media in general continued to attacks him, often unfairly, I continued to publish articles which supported him.
What Benedict Prays For
No man is without sin. This is a dogma of our faith, our understanding of our reality — that every man and every woman has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, a glory which is, precisely, the glory of holiness.
And falling short of that glory, all men and all women must be… made holy. Truly free, truly alive. Redeemed. For falling short of that glory places each of is in the realm of darkness, of unholiness.
The central task of Jesus when he walked this earth was not to heal the sick, not to give sight to the blind, not to raise the dead — though all of that was of course part of His mission, and he did those things. Nor was it his task to overthrow any earthly political or economic power structure (something he never tried to do). His central task was to forgive sins.
And, after forgiving sins, to call souls to a new life, to a ceaseless pilgrimage toward holiness.
This world is beautiful, at times achingly beautiful, but it is fallen. Hence the things that don’t fit, and go wrong, and cause pain and sorrow.
We were meant for eternity, not time, and we were meant to be raised from self-absorption and self-fulfillment to Christ-absorption and Christ-fulfillment… to become conformed to Christ’s nature, that is, to become like Him, divine…
This hope, this vision, this belief, that the world and each human soul can be redeemed is, in a profound sense, what Pope Benedict gave his whole life to when he was ordained in 1951, and what he is praying for, even now, in his 94th year, in the 71st year of his priesthood.
Below, a photo of Robert Moynihan (author of this letter) with Pope Benedict in the Apostolic Palace on July 11, 2009.
Here is an Associated Press story about what Pope Francis had to say today about the 70th anniversary of Pope Benedict’s priestly ordination.
Pope Francis: “Thank you, Benedict, for praying for the Church”
By Frances D’Emilio
VATICAN CITY (AP) — (link)
Pope Francis on Tuesday offered an affectionate, public thank-you to Benedict XVI, whose retirement from the papacy in 2013 shocked the Roman Catholic Church and the world.
Addressing tourists and Romans in St. Peter’s Square, Francis triggered applause when he recalled that it was the 70th anniversary of Benedict’s ordination to the priesthood in his native Germany.
Joseph Ratzinger later became a powerful Vatican official as the Church’s official guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy. Then, in 2005, Ratzinger was elected by fellow cardinals as pontiff and chose the name Benedict XVI. He announced in February 2013 his decision to retire two weeks later, the first pontiff to resign in 600 years.
Benedict, now 94 and frail, is devoting his remaining years to prayer in a monastery in Vatican City. Francis said: “To you, Benedict, dear father and brother, goes our affection, our gratitude and our closeness.”
Francis then noted in his remarks that Benedict “lives in the monastery, a place desired to host the contemplative community here in the Vatican, so that they may pray for the Church.”
“Currently, he’s the Vatican’s contemplative one, who is spending is life praying for the Church and for the diocese of Rome, of which he is emeritus bishop,” Francis said.
“Thank you, Benedict, dear father and brother. Thank you for your credible witness,″ Francis added.
He concluded with yet another expression of gratitude, saying, “Thanks for your gaze continuing turned toward the horizon of God, thank you.”
Some Church observers have expressed discomfort at the reality of having a retired and current pontiff both living at the Vatican. Others criticized the retirement decision itself.
Francis, 84, pays occasional calls on Benedict at the monastery. The current pope has also indicated that if, like Benedict, he feels he no longer has the strength to adequately carry out a pontiff’s mission to the Church, he might consider resignation himself.
Pope Francis after the Angelus of today, June 29, 2021. Greetings to Joseph Ratzinger and the 160th anniversary of the Osservatore Romano (link)
(edited by “Il sismografo” editorial staff)
By Pope Francis
Dear brothers and sisters, the day after tomorrow, Thursday 1 July, a special day of prayer and reflection for Lebanon will take place here in the Vatican. Together with the Heads of all the Churches present in the Land of the Cedars, we will let ourselves be inspired by the Word of Scripture which says: “The Lord God has plans for peace” (Jer 29:11). I invite everyone to join us spiritually, praying that Lebanon will recover from the serious crisis it is going through and show the world its face of peace and hope once again.
July 1 will be the 160th anniversary of the first edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the “party newspaper,” as I call it. Best wishes and many thanks for your service. Continue your work with fidelity and creativity.
And today, for us, there is an anniversary that touches the hearts of all of us: 70 years ago, Pope Benedict was ordained a priest. [applause]
To you, Benedict, dear father and brother, goes our affection, our gratitude and our closeness.
He lives in the monastery, a place wanted to host contemplative communities here in the Vatican, to pray for the Church.
Currently, he is the contemplative of the Vatican, who spends his life praying for the Church and for the diocese of Rome, of which he is bishop emeritus.
Thank you, Benedict, dear father and brother. Thanks for your credible testimony. Thank you for your gaze continually turned towards the horizon of God: thank you!
I warmly greet all of you, pilgrims from Italy and from various countries; but today I address the Romans in a special way, on the feast of our Patron Saints.
I bless you, dear Romans!
I wish all the best to the city of Rome: that, thanks to the commitment of all of you, of all citizens, that it is liveable and welcoming, that no one is excluded, that children and the elderly are cared for, that there is work and that it is dignified, that the poor and the least are at the center of political and social projects. I pray for this.
And you too, dear faithful of Rome, pray for your Bishop. Thank you.
Happy feast everyone! Have a good lunch and goodbye.
Below, the moment on June 29, 1951, 70 years ago today, when Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (right) was ordained a priest in Freising, Germany, along with his older brother, Fr. Georg Ratzinger (left), ordained that same day
Benedict XVI’s spokesman: Storm at World Youth Day in 2011 is a metaphor for Benedict’s pontificate (link)
In 2011, Madrid, Spain, was rocked by thunder and lightning during World Youth Day.
Pope Benedict XVI’s spokesman remembers the scene well.
Here are the words of Fr. Federico Lombardi, President, Joseph Ratzinger Foundation:
“After the storm there was a great peace, total silence, with adoration in the great monstrance of the Cathedral of Toledo. At the center of this massive gathering was Jesus as the Eucharist.”
That sensation of peace and silence felt by over a million young people gathered in Madrid that day had a special meaning.
Fr. Federico Lombardi continued:
“For me it was truly one of the high points of Benedict’s pontificate. It was a metaphor for his whole pontificate. After the problems, storms, tensions… one arrives at the final point of adoration and union with God in peace, before Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist.”
Fr. Federico Lombardi participated in a forum organized by the Ratzinger Foundation and Rome Reports for the 70th anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s ordination to the priesthood. An anniversary that is very special for the Pope Emeritus.
Fr. Federico Lombardi added:
“When in his autobiography he speaks of his priestly ordination, it is very clear that it is the fundamental moment, the key event, from which his life then unfolds as one of service, of deep love for God, and of study.”
Pope Benedict XVI understood that this spirit of service should be reflected in the Mass as a sign of full respect for the liturgy.
Fr. Federico Lombardi summed up:
“I did not notice any particular mystical moments, such as an expression of an extraordinary devotion or something outside our Christian experience. He was always in a state of perfect calm and profound participation.”
Federico Lombardi was the director of the Vatican Press Office from 2006 to 2016. As one of the main witnesses of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, he now chairs the Joseph Ratzinger Foundation.
Below, a moment toward the end of Pope Benedict’s pontificate. Behind him sits his personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein. Benedict resigned in 2013, more than eight years ago, when he was 85 years old
Don Roberto Regoli: “With Ratzinger the end of the old, the beginning of the new” (link)
June 28, 2021
70 years after the priestly ordination of the man who would become Pope Benedict XVI, one of the most famous and expert biographers of the Pope Emeritus, Don Roberto Regoli, author of the book Beyond the Crisis of the Church. The Pontificate of Benedict XVI (Lindau), grants an interview to Polish writer Vladimiro Redzioch (Redzioch has been a contributor to Inside the Vatican for nearly 30 years)
By Vladimiro Redzioch
Among the most authoritative biographers of Benedict XVI is a Roman priest who is also a historian, Don Roberto Regoli, director of the Department of Church History of the Gregorian University and Director of the magazine Archivum Historiae Pontificiae.
His book Beyond the Crisis of the Church. The pontificate of Benedict XVI (Edizioni Lindau) is a story of the pontificate of Pope Ratzinger in the broadest context of the history of the Church.
Regoli shows the great figure of this Pope-theologian who had to face multiple crises in the Church but also in the world. It is also an attempt to take stock of his pontificate.
On April 18, 2005, after one of the shortest conclaves in history, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was chosen as bishop of Rome. The new Pope has chosen the name of Benedict to refer to Benedict XV, the Pope of the First World War, and Saint Benedict of Norcia, father of Western monasticism and patron of Europe. Why precisely these two characters?
Don Roberto Regoli: In the name chosen there is a clear political vision of Catholicism and the papacy in the world. Europe is central to Ratzinger’s vision, but here the papal horizon goes beyond continental borders. The reference to peace seems inevitable after 11 September 2001 and in the presence of various war zones in 2005. In any case, as Ratzinger himself said a few days after his election, in the reference to Pope Benedict XV, a man of peace at time of the First World War, we see the desire of Ratzinger himself to be “at the service of reconciliation and harmony between men and peoples,” and in the reference to St. Benedict of Nursia, who, thanks to his Order, “exercised an enormous influence in the spread of Christianity throughout the continent,” we see “a fundamental point of reference for the unity of Europe.”
In 2005 the pontificate of the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith began, one of the closest and most trusted collaborators of John Paul II. For many, his pontificate, programmatically, is seen as the continuation of the pontificate of John Paul II. In your opinion, what in the pontificate of Benedict XVI marks the continuation and which dossiers were new?
Don Regoli: Ratzinger was the theological soul of the pontificate of Saint John Paul II and in fact in his election the cardinals wanted a continuation of the lines of the previous pontificate. This approach can be easily identified in anthropological themes, in questions of sexual ethics, bioethics, defense of life, in ecumenical commitment, in the implementation of the Second Vatican Council and in the search for the unity of the Church. There are obviously differences. Such as the way of setting up interreligious dialogue (with Benedict XVI more cultural and not at all theological), a reduced attention to political relations and concrete ways of implementing unity (with the concrete attempt to recover with the Lefebvrian world and with the constitution of ordinariates for Anglo Catholics).
Joseph Ratzinger was well prepared to occupy the Chair of Peter: a great theologian of the Church (probably the greatest), a connoisseur of the Curia (for more than 25 years he directed one of the most important Congregations of the Curia) and of the local Churches (he met bishops from all over the world during their “ad limina” visits). But on the other hand he was neither a politician nor an administrator (the Holy See does international politics, the Vatican City must be administered). How did this affect the conduct of the pontificate?
Don Regoli: Undoubtedly this was the weak side of his pontificate. Benedict XVI was not a politician. Throughout the decisions of his pontificate he did not bother to find consensus and implement it, but only asked the question about the right, the true and the good, providing his own answer. Unfortunately, this has exposed him enormously to attacks, without finding adequate support for his work. He covered the others, but who covered him?”
Benedict XVI had many enemies, even within the Church. First of all, his election was hampered by the so-called “group” of St. Gallen. High-ranking clergymen invited by the bishop of St. Gallen to Switzerland (including Cardinals Martini, Silvestrini, Murphy-O’Connor and Danneels) who wanted the Church to be “open” and criticized the Church during the last phase of John Paul’s pontificate II. Their target was first of all the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that is, Ratzinger, because, according to them, he exercised a centralizing and conservative influence. As if that were not enough, even in his homeland many German Catholics and bishops openly criticized the Pope (“In Germany some people have always tried to destroy me,” said the Pope Emeritus in a book-interview).
Don Regoli: He remained in his place. He did not fret. His ecclesiastical policy went forward. As we learned from the words of Cardinal Danneels himself and from his authorized biography, there was a network of cardinals and bishops who came together to promote their ecclesial agenda. Ratzinger never had his own network/structure, nor did he bother to create one. As the theologian that he was, he had a clear awareness of God’s work in the Church and in the world, so these very human dynamics did not particularly interest him.
He knew the criticisms, he was aware of the attacks and his response was at the level of the arguments and not of a policy of repression.
He wanted to convince and not impose.
Here appears a characteristic of Ratzinger, which is at once the strength and the weakness of his pontificate.
The Pope who was often presented as a “conservative” made a “revolutionary” gesture: the renunciation of the pontificate. Msgr. Georg Gänswein commenting on Benedict XVI’s resignation said: “Since the election of Francis on March 13, 2013 there have not been two Popes, but de facto an enlarged ministry — with an active member and another contemplative member.” How do you interpret these words of the Secretary of the Pope Emeritus?
Don Regoli: Archbishop Gänswein wanted to reiterate that there is only one Pope and at the same time he tried to explain the novelty of the situation.
He was not understood and his words were extrapolated, cut and in any case not quoted in their entirety. There are always those who try to create confusion.
In reality, Gänswein, in reiterating the uniqueness of the papal government, attempted to initiate a theological reflection on renunciation, using an analogical language on the “enlarged” Petrine ministry, which included — according to Gänswein himself — two biographers of Benedict XVI, Peter Seewald and myself, and others. So this “extended” ministry does not seem so dangerous when even simple scholars enter it. Not everyone paid attention to the integrity of the speech. There was no will to understand.
The Pope theologian left the extraordinary legacy of his Magisterium: 16 volumes of Teachings and also three books on Jesus of Nazareth. Today there is a renewed interest in the writings of Benedict XVI. Why?
Don Regoli: Because they remain current. They are read by many young people, not only students of theology but also of other disciplines.
The interest remains alive because Ratzinger-Benedict XVI was able to touch upon central themes of the life of believers and of men in general, using simple and accessible language, which knew how to go to the heart of the questions, without trivializing the questions and even less the answers. Due to his ability to go to the center of Christianity and to explain it clearly, there are those who have long considered him as a new “Doctor of the Church.”
In your biography of Benedict XVI you try to take stock of your pontificate (even if Pope Ratzinger still lives and carries out his “contemplative ministry”). What are your conclusions?
Don Regoli: If at the beginning (2005) his papacy could be considered a transitional papacy, above all because of his age and the probable magisterial continuity with John Paul II, at the end (in 2013) the judgment does not coincide with the initial expectations. We can speak of a significant pontificate, for some “pivotal” in the history of Catholicism, not only because of the resignation of February 11, 2013.
We note a first period of the pontificate with strong reforms. The peak was reached in 2009 (ecumenical, liturgical and canonical reforms). Then not anymore.
Certainly after 2010 the slowdowns of the curial machine are evident, probably to respond to media attacks, as well as a certain tiredness of the Curia actors is undeniable. He was not a “restorer” pontiff, as some feared and others hoped, but of a consolidator, who has also been able to play the raise, taking risks. With originality and determination he addressed the dossier of the abuse of minors by the clergy, without allowing himself to be overwhelmed by media criticism or episcopal defaults. He was able to give orientation to the ecclesial attitude on the matter.
Benedict XVI’s pontificate can only be understood from the point of view of ecclesial and above all papal reformism. It is no coincidence that the Pope implemented at the same time reforms of the liturgical system, theological in an ecumenical key (especially as regards relations with the Lefebvrians and Anglicans) and canonical (reforms of part of the 1983 Code of Canon Law and creation of the “Personal Ordinariates”).
With originality and determination he addressed the dossier of the abuse of minors by the clergy, without allowing himself to be overwhelmed by media criticism or episcopal defaults. He was able to give orientation to the ecclesial attitude on the matter.
But ultimately how do you evaluate the pontificate of Benedict XVI?
Don Regoli: Benedict XVI’s answer to a question from Peter Seewald appears revealing. The interviewer asked: “Are you the end of the old or the beginning of the new?” The Pope replied: “Both.”
It was the right question and the right answer. His pontificate cannot be pigeonholed into rigid definitions. Will you allow me an addition?”
Don Regoli: There is an evaluation of his pontificate by Benedict XVI himself, provided to the faithful on February 27, 2013, that is, the day before the sede vacante (beginning February 28, 2013).
His is a clearly theological reading, but fascinating to understand the Pope’s mind. It is a long quotation, but it is worth reproducing in full:
“It was a stretch of the Church’s journey that had moments of joy and light, but also moments that were not easy.
“I felt like St. Peter with the apostles in the boat on the lake of Galilee: the Lord gave us so many days of sun and light breeze, days in which the fishing was abundant; there were also times when the waters were rough and the wind was against, as in all the history of the Church, and the Lord seemed to be sleeping.
“But I have always known that the Lord is in that boat, and I have always known that the boat of the Church is not mine, it is not ours, but it is His.
“And the Lord does not let it sink; it is He who leads it, certainly also through the men he has chosen, because he willed it so.
“This has been and is a certainty that nothing can obscure.”
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