CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters

    Pope Francis visits Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in Vatican City to exchange Christmas greetings almost 10 years ago, on December 23, 2013, just 10 months after Pope Benedict resigned. | Vatican Media

    Letter #5, 2023 Friday, January 6: Francis’ Homily

    The last days of Pope Benedict XVI‘s life have passed quickly.

    Just after Christmas, and just after his long-time personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein flew on December 26 to Germany to be with his family for a couple of days, saying goodbye to Pope Benedictwho still seemed, though frail, not then in imminent danger of dying.

    That night, Benedict suddenly had great difficulty breathing, and he briefly lost consciousness.

    Gänswein, just barely arrived in Germany, was called by those who were caring for Benedict. When they told Gänswein of the serious condition of the old Pope, Gänswein was alarmed, and said he would take the very next flight back to Rome.

     Benedict’s breathing remained difficult on the 27th, and, on the morning of the 28th, Pope Francis was informed of the seriousness of Benedict’s condition.

    Then Francis, at the end of his regular Wednesday General Audience, publicly asked the faithful present and around the world to world to pray for the 95-year-old retired Pope.

    So the world knew the situation of the old Pope was very serious, and that he might soon pass away.

    On Thursday the 29th, Benedict seemed a bit better.

    On Friday the 30th, he seemed weaker again, and struggled to breathe.

    On the last day of the year, at about 3 a.m., he spoke his last words, overheard by one of his caretakers, a male nurse, who was sitting by his bed: “Signore, ti amo.

    “Lord, I love you.”

    A few hours later, at 9:34 on December 31, Benedict breathed his last…

    At 9:34 in the morning, Joseph-Benedict-Peter breathed his last.

    It was December 31, the last day of 2022.

    For the four days following, on Sunday, January 1, and on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, January 2, 3 and 4, thousands came to view the mortal remains of the old Pope.

    Then his funeral Mass was held on Thursday, January 5.

    Just yesterday.

    The Mass began in mist and fog so thick that it was impossible to see the great dome of the basilica from the piazza below.

    During the Mass, Pope Francis delivered the homily (full text below).

    Then, by the end of the funeral Mass, the sun had dispelled the mist, and the Square was lit with warm January light…

    Now it is the Feast of the Epiphany… and Benedict has been laid to rest in the crypt below the vast marble floor of St. Peter’s Basilica, in the very tomb which was for many years that of Pope John Paul II, until John Paul’s body was moved up to the main floor of the basilica, on the right side, just after the chapel devoted to the Pietà.

    Benedict has gone on ahead of us, through the same veil that each of us in our own time must also pass through… 

    Benedict’s last words: a mystical encounter?

    Some have seen in Benedict’s last words perhaps an echo of the words St. Peter spoke to Jesus when Jesus, in the Gospel of John, asks Peter three times in a row, “Peter, do you love me?”

    I stress “perhaps” because what follows is merely the personal reflection, or speculation, of someone who knew and loved the old Pope, but does not have any authority to interpret or explain his last words,     beyond the authority of ordinary friendship.

    Here is that passage:

    Jesus and Peter: John 21:15-17

    15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 

    16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 

    17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

    (End, Gospel passage)

    So Jesus asked three times “Do you love me?” and Peter repeated three times, “Lord, you know I love you.”

    So the answer Peter gave was each time the same as the final words spoken by Pope Benedict: “Signore, ti amo.”

    “Lord, I love you.”


    This conversation between Jesus and Peter occurred when Jesus was having breakfast with His disciples soon after the resurrection.

    Jesus was exhorting Peter about his upcoming responsibilities, and then. prophesying how Peter would eventually face his own death.

    By asking Peter, “Do you love me?” three times, Jesus was stressing the importance of Peter’s unswerving love and obedience to his Lord as essential for his future ministry.

    Thus, Jesus questioned Peter about His love for Him, three times, and each time Peter answered in the affirmative, and Jesus followed up with the command for Peter to “feed my lambs,” “feed my sheep,” “feed my sheep.”

    Jesus meant: if Peter truly loved his Master, he is would “shepherd” (feed) those who belonged to Christ.

    Jesus’ words thus attest to Peter’s role as the leader of the new Church, whose members would be responsible for spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth after Jesus’ ascent into heaven.


    The three affirmations of low and the three denials…

    Now, some exegetes see in Christ’s thrice-repeated question a reminder to Peter of his famous three denials not long before.

    Those three denials, and the profound regret and sorrow Peter felt when Jesus turned to look at him at the moment of the third denial, must have been seared deeply into Peter’s mind, because we are told that Peter wept “bitter tears” after Jesus looked at him following Peter’s the third denial (Luke 22:54–62).

    Here is that Gospel passage in Luke, Chapter 22…

    Peter Denies Jesus, and Weeps Bitterly: Luke 22:54-62

    54 Having arrested Him, they led Him and brought Him into the high priest’s house. But Peter followed at a distance. 

    55 Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. 

    56 And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, “This man was also with Him.”

    57 But he denied Him, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him.”

    58 And after a little while another saw him and said, “You also are of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!”

    59 Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, “Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean.”

    60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are saying!” Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 

    61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” 

    62 So Peter went out and wept bitterly.

    (End, Gospel passage)


    So Jesus repeated His question to Peter three times, just as Peter had previously denied Jesus three times.

    Then, while Pope Benedict — the 265th successor of Peter as head of the Church — lay dying, the very last words he spoke were: “Signore, ti amo” (“Lord, I love you.”)

    Is it possible that at that moment Benedict may have been in a kind of mystical state, reflecting on the meaning of his own life and work and vocation and identity?

    Note that Benedict, like all Popes, was a man with three successive names:

    — born Joseph Ratzinger in 1927, then

    — taking to himself the new name Benedict XVI, in 2005, and

    — by that very assumption of a new name, taking on also the name, the identity, of Peter, in the sense that every Pope is, in a mysterious but real way, Peter

    Three names:




    So may one wonder whether Benedict was perhaps thinking of that foundational scene from the Gospels, of Jesus questioning Peter, and Peter responding, when he whispered those words, “Lord, I love you”?

    May one wonder if Benedict may have actually been experiencing the presence of Christ… if he was in some mystical way… encountering Christ?

    The words Benedict spoke seem to be addressed to someone.

    Someone one who is near, present, listening, even, one might say, someone waiting to hear the answer to a question that has just been posed…

    Someone to whom Joseph, who was also Benedict. who was also Peter, was in intimate dialogue with as his earthly pilgrimage was drawing to a close…

    Did our late Pope, our Papa, our Peter, like the first Peter, hear the voice of Christ asking him, “Joseph… Benedict… Peter, do you love me?

    Is that perhaps why this Peter, in the same way as the first Peter, answered: “Signore, ti amo“?


    Here is the transcription of a quite interesting interview with Pope Benedict‘s private secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein. Gänswein here goes into detail on the last hours of the Pope’s life and his last words.

    Archbishop Gänswein: “Benedict XVI lived loving the Lord until the end” (link)

    The private secretary of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, speaks to Vatican News and offers a moving testimony of the late Pontiff’s final hours and of the many years he spent at his side

    By Silvia Kritzenberger

    January 4, 2023

    Tried, moved, but at the same time at peace. Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Prefect of the Papal Household and private secretary first of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and then of Benedict XVI, visited the studios of Vatican Radio a day ahead of the funeral of the man he served for many years (on January 4).

    In an interview, he recounts the last moments of the earthly existence of the man who served the Church as Bishop of Rome from 2005 to 2013, and then made the historic choice of renouncing to the Pontificate almost ten years ago.

    Q: Thousands of faithful paid their respects to the mortal remains of the Pope Emeritus. You have spent a large part of your life with him. How do you live now?

    Humanly, suffering very much. It hurts, I suffer… Spiritually, very well. I know Pope Benedict is now where he wanted to go.

    Q: How did Benedict XVI live these last days? What were his last words?

    I didn’t hear his last words with my own ears, but the night before his death one of the nurses assisting him overheard them. Around three o’clock: “Lord, I love you.” The (male) nurse told me in the morning as soon as I arrived in the bedroom, these were the last truly understandable words.

    Usually, we prayed Lauds in front of his bed: that morning too I said to the Holy Father: “Let’s do as we did yesterday: I pray aloud and you join in spirit.” In fact, it was no longer possible that he could pray aloud, he was really out of breath.

    There he only opened his eyes a little – he understood the question – and nodded his head yes. So, I started. At around 8 o’clock he began to breathe more and more heavily. There were two doctors – Dr. Polisca and a resuscitator – and they told me: “We fear that now the moment will come when he will have to have his last fight on earth.”

    I called the memores Domini and also Sister Brigida, and I told them to come because he had reached his agony. He was lucid at the time. I had already prepared the accompanying prayers for the dying man earlier, and we prayed for about 15 minutes, all together while Benedict XVI breathed more and more heavily.

    It became clear that he could not breathe well. So, I looked at one of the doctors and asked: “But, did he go into agony?”. He told me: “Yes, it’s started, but we don’t know how long it will last.”

    Q: And then what happened?

    We were there; everyone then prayed in silence, and at 9:34 he took his last breath. Then we continued our prayers no longer for the dying but for the dead. And we concluded by singing “Alma Redemptoris Mater”.

    He died in the Octave of Christmas, his favorite liturgical time, on the day of his predecessor — San Silvestro, Pope under the Emperor Constantine. He had been elected the day in which a German Pope, Saint Leo IX of Alsace is remembered; he died on the day of a Roman Pope, St. Sylvester.

    I told everyone: “I’ll call Pope Francis right away; he will be the first to know.” I called him, and he said: “I’ll be there immediately!”

    Then he came, I accompanied him to the bedroom where he had died and I told everyone: “Stay”. The Pope greeted them; I offered him a chair, and he sat next to the bed and prayed. He gave his blessing and then he left. This happened on 31 December 2022.

    Q: Which words of his spiritual testament touched you the most?

    The testament as such touched me deeply. Choosing a few words is difficult, I must say. But this testament had already been written on 29 August 2006: the liturgical feast of the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist.

    It was handwritten — very legible, very small but legible – in the second year of his Pontificate. In German, you would say “O-Ton Benedikt“, that is “This is really Benedict.” If I had had the text, without knowing the author, I would have recognized it. It contains the spirit of Benedict. Reading it or meditating on it, one sees it is really his. All of him is in here, in two pages.

    Q: In short, it is a thank you to God and to his family …

    Yes. It is a thank you, but also an encouragement to the faithful, not to let themselves be led astray by any hypothesis, either in the theological or philosophical field or in any other field.

    Ultimately, it is the Church that communicates, it is the Church, the living Body of Christ, that communicates the faith to all and for all. Sometimes even in theology, there are theories that are very enlightened, or seem so, but that after a year or two have already passed. It is the faith of the Catholic Church, this is what truly leads us to liberation and puts us in contact with the Lord.

    Q: What was the strongest message of his pontificate?

    His strength lies in the motto he chose when he became Archbishop of Munich, quoting John’s Third Letter: “Cooperatores veritatis“, that is, “collaborators of the truth”, which means that truth is not something that has been thought, but is a Person: it is the Son of God.

    God became incarnate in Jesus Christ, in Jesus of Nazareth, and this is his message: to follow not a theory of truth, but to follow the Lord. “I am the way, the truth and the life”. This is his message. A message that is not a burden: rather it is an aid to carry all the weight of each day, and this gives joy. There are problems, but faith is stronger; faith must have the last word.

    Q: The world will never forget that 11 February 2013, the announcement of the resignation. There are those who continue to say that it was not a free choice or even that he wanted to remain Pope in some way. What do you think?

    I myself asked him this same question on various occasions, saying to him: “Holy Father, they are looking for a conspiracy behind the announcement of February 11 after the Consistory. They search, they search, they search…”

    Benedict replied: “Whoever does not believe that what I said is the real reason for giving up will not believe me even if I say now ‘Believe me, it is so!'” This is and remains the only reason and we must not forget it. He had announced this decision to me: “I have to do it”. I was among the first who tried to dissuade him. And he answered me clearly: “Look, I’m not asking for your opinion, but I’m communicating my decision. A prayed, suffered decision, taken coram Deo”.

    There are those who do not believe or make up theories, saying that they would have “left one part but kept another part”, etc.: all those who say this are only making up theories about one word or the another and in the end they do not trust Benedict, what he said. This is just an affront to him. Of course, everyone is free to say sensible or less sensible things.

    But the naked truth is this: he no longer had the strength to lead the Church, as he said in Latin that day. I asked: “Holy Father, why in Latin?” He replied: “This is the language of the Church.” Anyone who thinks they can find or need to find some other reason is wrong. He communicated the real reason. Amen.

    Q: What aspect struck you the most when you were close to Benedict in the long period he spent as Emeritus?

    It’s been almost ten years. Benedict — already as a cardinal, already as a professor — had a very great [spiritual] dowry. Many say humility: yes, this is true, but also – perhaps this was not seen so well – an ability to accept when people did not agree with what he said.

    As a professor it is normal: there is the comparison, the discussion, the “struggle” between the different arguments. Strong words are also used in this context, but without ever hurting and if possible, without causing controversy. It is another thing when one is a bishop and then Pope: he preaches and writes not as a private person, but as one who has received the mandate to preach and to be the shepherd of a flock.

    The Pope is the first witness of the Gospel, indeed, of the Lord. And there we saw that his words, the words of the Successor of Peter, were not accepted. But this tells us that the leadership of the Church is not done only by commanding, deciding, but also by suffering, and the part of the suffering was no small one. When he became Emeritus, certainly all the responsibility and the whole Pontificate were over for him.

    Q: Did he think he would live this long after giving up?

    About three months ago I told him: “Holy Father, we are approaching my 10th anniversary of episcopate: Epiphany 2013, Epiphany 2023. We must celebrate.” But it also means ten years from his resignation.

    Some ask me: “But how is it possible he gave up saying he no longer had the strength and then he is still living after ten years?” And he replied: “I must say that I am the first one who is surprised that the Lord has given me more time. I thought a year at most, and He gave me 10! And 95 is a good age, but years and old age also have their weight, even for a Pope Emeritus.”

    He continued: “I accepted it and tried to do what I had promised: to pray, to be present, and above all to accompany my successor with prayer.” And this is very beautiful. I also recommend to some who have problems with this to re-read what Benedict said, thanking Pope Francis in the Clementine Hall on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of his priestly ordination.

    Finally, once, I jokingly said, in a not very elegant way: “Holy Father, you have reckoned without your host.” He replied: “I didn’t make any decision: I accepted what the Lord gave me. He gave me this; I have to thank Him. This is my belief. Others may have other ideas, theories or beliefs, but this is mine.”

    Q: What was the greatest teaching for your life, and what will you miss most about Joseph Ratzinger?

    The greatest teaching is that written faith, pronounced and proclaimed faith, is not only something that he said and preached, but that he lived. That is, the example for me is that the faith he learnt, taught and proclaimed became a lived faith. And for me – even in this moment in which I suffer, not alone – this is a great spiritual relief.

    Q: In his testament Benedict writes: “If in this late hour of my life I look back on the decades I have covered, the first thing I see is how many reasons I have to be thankful.” Was he a happy, fulfilled man?

    He was a man deeply convinced that in the love of the Lord one is never wrong, even if humanly one makes many mistakes. And this conviction gave him peace and – it can be said – this humility and also this clarity.

    He always said: “Faith must be a simple faith, not simplistic, but simple. Because all great theories, all great theologies have their foundation in faith. And this is and remains the only nourishment for oneself and also for others.”

    [End, interview of Archbishop Gaenswein with Silvia Kritzenberger]

    Funeral Mass for the Supreme Pontiff Emeritus Benedict XVI, 01.05.2023 (link)

    Homily during the Funeral Mass of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI

    By Pope Francis

    January 45, 2022, St. Peter’s Square

    “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).     

    These were the final words spoken by the Lord on the cross; his last breath, as it were, which summed up what had been his entire life: a ceaseless self-entrustment into the hands of his Father.

    His were hands of forgiveness and compassion, healing and mercy, anointing and blessing, which led him also to entrust himself into the hands of his brothers and sisters.

    The Lord, open to the individuals and their stories that he encountered along the way, allowed himself to be shaped by the Father’s will.

    He shouldered all the consequences and hardships entailed by the Gospel, even to seeing his hands pierced for love. “See my hands,” he says to Thomas (Jn 20:27), and to each of us: “See my hands.”

    Pierced hands that constantly reach out to us, inviting us to recognize the love that God has for us and to believe in it (cf. 1 Jn 4:16).[1]

    “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.”

    This is the invitation and the programme of life that he quietly inspires in us.

    Like a potter (cf. Is 29:16), he wishes to shape the heart of every pastor, until it is attuned to the heart of Christ Jesus (cf. Phil 2:5).

    Attuned in grateful devotion, in service to the Lord and to his people, a service born of thanksgiving for a completely gracious gift: “You belong to me… you belong to them,” the Lord whispers, “you are under the protection of my hands. You are under the protection of my heart. Stay in my hands and give me yours.”[2]

    Here we see the “condescension” and closeness of God, who is ready to entrust himself to the frail hands of his disciples, so that they can feed his people and say with him: Take and eat, take and drink, for this is my body which is given up for you (cf. Lk 22:19). The total synkatabasis of God.

    Attuned in prayerful devotion, a devotion silently shaped and refined amid the challenges and resistance that every pastor must face (cf. 1 Pet 1:6-7) in trusting obedience to the Lord’s command to feed his flock (cf. Jn 21:17 ).     

    Like the Master, a shepherd bears the burden of interceding and the strain of anointing his people, especially in situations where goodness must struggle to prevail and the dignity of our brothers and sisters is threatened (cf. Heb 5:7-9).

    In the course of this intercession, the Lord quietly bestows the spirit of meekness that is ready to understand, accept, hope and risk, notwithstanding any misunderstandings that might result. It is the source of an unseen and elusive fruitfulness, born of his knowing the One in whom he has placed his trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:12). A trust itself born of prayer and adoration, capable of discerning what is expected of a pastor and shaping his heart and his decisions in accord with God’s good time (cf. Jn 21:18): “Feeding means loving, and loving also means being ready to suffer. Loving means giving the sheep what is truly good, the nourishment of God’s truth, of God’s word, the nourishment of his presence”.[3]

    Attuned also in devotion sustained by the consolation of the Spirit, who always precedes the pastor in his mission. In his passionate effort to communicate the beauty and the joy of the Gospel (cf. Gaudete et Exsultate, 57). In the fruitful witness of all those who, like Mary, in so many ways stand at the foot of the cross. In the painful yet steadfast serenity that neither attacks nor coerces. In the stubborn but patient hope that the Lord will be faithful to his promise, the promise he made to our fathers and to their descendants forever (cf. Lk 1:54-55).

    Holding fast to the Lord’s last words and to the witness of his entire life, we too, as an ecclesial community, want to follow in his steps and to commend our brother into the hands of the Father. May those merciful hands find his lamp alight with the oil of the Gospel that he spread and testified to for his entire life (cf. Mt 25:6-7).

    At the end of his Pastoral Rule, Saint Gregory the Great urged a friend to offer him this spiritual accompaniment: “Amid the shipwreck of the present life, sustain me, I beseech you, by the plank of your prayer, that, since my own weight sinks me down, the hand of your merit will raise me up”. Here we see the awareness of a pastor who cannot carry alone what in truth he could never carry alone, and can thus commend himself to the prayers and the care of the people entrusted to him.[4]

    God’s faithful people, gathered here, now accompanies and entrusts to him the life of the one who was their pastor. Like the women at the tomb, we too have come with the fragrance of gratitude and the balm of hope, in order to show him once more the love that is undying. We want to do this with the same wisdom, tenderness and devotion that he bestowed upon us over the years. Together, we want to say: “Father, into your hands we commend his spirit”.

    Benedict, faithful friend of the Bridegroom, may your joy be complete as you hear his voice, now and forever!


[1] Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 1.

[2] Cf. ID., Homily for the Chrism Mass, 13 April 2006.

[3] ID., Homily for the Beginning of the Pontificate, 24 April 2005.

[4] Cf. Ibid.

[00019-EN.02] [Original text: Italian]

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