After the great John Paul II, the cardinals elected me, a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord. I am consoled by the fact that the Lord can work and act even through insufficient instruments, and I especially entrust myself to your prayers.
These were the undying words which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had said as he stepped out onto the balcony at the central window of St Peter’s Basilica, and was greeted by a cheering crowd of approximately 100,000 people on April 19, 2005.
Now, that same Bavarian pope on Saturday 31 December 2023, passed away as you and I would certainly do one day. Among the great courageous acts Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI became the first pontiff to resign in six centuries. It was Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni, who announced his death. With sorrow I inform you that the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, passed away today at 9:34 in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican, adding to the journalists present that the funeral would be celebrated on Thursday, January 5, 2023, at St Peter’s Basilica by Pope Francis.
For us Maltese, Pope Benedict XVI would remain imprinted in our hearts for two reasons. First, Benedict had become linked to Malta following his canonisation of Fr Ġorġ Preca, the first Maltese to be declared a saint, in 2007. Secondly, Malta’s Archbishop Charles Scicluna in his message for the occasion also said that Benedict was a great and wise man with extraordinary depth. He recalled his 2010 visit to Malta. Commenting on that historic occasion, Archbishop Scicluna said: He came with his humility, with his wisdom, with his candour, with his modesty. He left an indelible mark in our hearts.
The German Pope Emeritus Joseph Ratzinger had been living a quiet life in a former convent inside the Vatican grounds since his decision to step down in February 2013. For a long time his health had been declining. However, the Vatican revealed on Wednesday that his situation went from bad to worse, while his successor Pope Francis called for Catholics worldwide to pray for him. Towards the end of his weekly catechesis of December 29, 2022, Pope Francis said: I would like to ask you all for a special prayer for Pope Emeritus Benedict, who is supporting the Church in silence. Remember him – he is very ill – asking the Lord to console him and to sustain him in this witness of love for the Church, until the end.
Personally speaking, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI taught me many things. To begin with: Having faith means drawing support from the faith of your brothers and sisters, even as your own faith serves as a support for the faith of others.
Regarding freedom he said: Freedom of conscience is the core of all freedom. Moreover he expressed the fact that in following Scripture and Tradition we are said to be truly free. It is the truth revealed through Scripture and Tradition and articulated by the Church’s Magisterium that sets us free. Finally, freedom comes from within, not from without. He said: To be truly alive is to be transformed from within, open to the energy of God’s love.
Benedict XVI gives us some intriguing reflections on what is hope. He tells us that hope singles us out from the rest who are without hope. He said: One who has hope lives differently. In his teachings Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI kept harping on the notion that Jesus is our real hope. He observed: Apart from Jesus Christ risen from the dead, there can be no salvation! He alone can free the world from evil and bring about the growth of the Kingdom of justice, peace and love to which we all aspire.
In his vast magisterial teaching one can also acknowledge Benedict as Doctor Caritatis, Doctor of Charity, a subject on which he spoke and wrote much, his first encyclical entitled Deus Caritas Est, God is love. About love Benedict tells us that love unifies, challenges and is in itself a mission. He said: Let unifying love be your measure; abiding love your challenge; self-giving love your mission! Love is expressed when we share the look of Christ’s eyes to others. Thus, he reflected: Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.
For Benedict love is true when it gives itself. He said: The proper request of love is that our entire life should be oriented to the imitation of the Beloved. Let us therefore spare no effort to leave a transparent trace of God’s love in our life. We exist because God loves us from eternity. God loves us. This is the great truth of our life; it is what makes everything else meaningful. We are not the product of blind chance or absurdity; instead our life originates as part of a loving plan of God. Love, which finds its fulfilment in marriage, is marked by faithfulness, indissolubility and is open to life. He said: To acknowledge the beauty and goodness of marriage is to realize that only a setting of fidelity and indissolubility, along with openness to God’s gift of life, is adequate to the grandeur and dignity of marital love.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was certainly a humble servant in the Lord’s vineyard. His immense talent, genius and generous heart he placed at the total service of God and his Church. To him Christ’s words are outstandingly appropriate: Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master (Matt 25:21).