Could you briefly describe the last Schülerkreis meeting?
Father Stephan Otto Horn: The Holy Father Emeritus invited members of the Schülerkreis (former students) together with those of the New Schülerkreis (scholars of Benedict’s thought) to celebrate Holy Mass privately with him at the Vatican. We were very happy that he also gave the homily. After Mass, he spoke with each of us in an informal but cordial baciamano (“kissing of the hand”).
Everyone was very happy, even if he had decided not to be present at our theological discussion in Castel Gandolfo. We respected his contemplative life.
This year we discussed “The Question of God in the Context of Secularization” (“Die Gottesfrage im Horizont der Säkularisierung”). Prof. Rémi Brague explained different aspects of secularization to help us understand more deeply this cultural trend. He also explored the negative consequences of this phenomenon for society. I hope we can publish the two speeches on our website soon.
I have chosen three subjects for the next Schülerkreis meeting. I’m going to suggest them to Pope Emeritus Benedict and he will make a decision.
What touched you most deeply about the Pope Emeritus’ homily?
Horn: I was touched in the homily (which was on Luke 14:7-14) by the interpretation of Jesus’ words to invite to dinner the poor who cannot invite themselves. In the eyes of the Holy Father that attitude reveals also the importance for society: “Without the selflessness of kindness, without the selflessness of forgiveness, no society can prosper. The greatest things in life — charity, friendship, kindness, forgiveness — can’t be bought: they are free of charge, just as God gives himself gratuitously.”
At the private meeting with the Pope Emeritus, my task was to pass on to him greetings from elderly or sick scholars who couldn’t participate in our meeting. In those moments, one can see his closeness and friendship for his former students.
Do you think that Pope Benedict will participate in future meetings?
Horn: I think that in the future, too, the Pope Emeritus will not be present at Castel Gandolfo to guide our theological discussions. But we do hope that he will remain in good health so that we can celebrate a Holy Mass with him at the Vatican, as happened this year, and that we can have a baciamano again afterward.
The New Schülerkreis is growing. Did you have new members again this year?
Horn: The circle of Professor Ratzinger’s former students obviously can’t grow. But the New Schülerkreis — a group of young theologians who study theology in a scientific way, is growing. Today it numbers 30 members from different countries and continents. There are also some Orthodox. All of them have a true passion to discover more deeply and popularize Pope Benedict’s theology.
Recently you attended a conference dedicated to Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth. Can you share some thoughts with us about that?
Horn: Yes. In September I went with some members of the Schülerkreis and the New Schülerkreis to Cotonou in Benin, in West Africa. Together with other theologians, we participated in a theological and pastoral week divided into two parts: a seminar of interpretation of Jesus of Nazareth and a symposium where we studied this work in the light of the theology and spirituality of Joseph Ratzinger. Participants from Benin and West Africa tried to introduce the fruits of the research into the pastoral situation in their countries. In my opinion the conference — financially supported by the Vatican’s Joseph Ratzinger Foundation — was a great event. A large number of participants was present, mostly young priests. We found in them a deep will to enter into Pope Benedict’s theology and spirituality and to continue with such conferences. We found a true joy which encourages us to continue this way.
How would you and other members of the Schülerkreis like Pope Benedict to be remembered?
Horn: Already for many years we, his former students, have been thinking how to thank our teacher. We have established a foundation in Munich named Josef Ratzinger Papst Benedikt XVI. Stiftung, presented under that name on our website.
We would like to work to promote his theology and spirituality and to develop this heritage, also ecumenically, for the future.
At the moment, we are trying to present Pope Benedict’s theology and spirituality mostly through the conferences. A similar congress on Jesus of Nazareth to the one in Cotonou will take place soon in Morogoro, Tanzania. We have also had other congresses in Freiburg, Germany and in Maynooth, Ireland.
(Note: The complete text of Benedict XVI’s recent homily is available in German at the Ratzinger-Pope Benedict Foundation in Germany: http://ratzinger-papst-benedikt-stiftung.de/cg2013homilie.html)