Church leaders, Bishop Olson remember Pope Benedict with gratitude
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Catholic leaders around the world who had been praying for retired Pope Benedict XVI reacted with sorrow to news of his death Dec. 31 but expressed gratitude for his years of service to the Catholic Church as a theologian and pope.
Diocese of Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson, said, “The death of Pope Benedict XVI, who served as the Vicar of Christ, from 2005 through his resignation of office in 2013, is an occasion that causes us both sadness for our loss and gratitude for his ministry as a priest, a theologian, a bishop, and as the pope.
“While the Church and the world in his death have lost one of the most brilliant minds of contemporary times, his passing invites reflection on his long, faithful, and dedicated service to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Bishop Olson continued in his statement, which commended the late pope for his commitment to religious liberty, liturgical splendor, antisemitism, and accountability for priests who committed abuse.
Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who had known then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when they both worked in the Roman Curia, said in a statement, “While we grieve that he is no longer with us here, I join Catholics everywhere in offering my profound gratitude to the Lord for the gift of Pope Benedict XVI and his ministry.”
“As a priest, university professor and theologian, archbishop and cardinal, his voice in deepening an authentic understanding” of the faith “led all of us to a more profound love of truth and the mystery of God,” the archbishop said. “It will take many years for us to delve more deeply into the wealth of learning that he has left us.”
Just a few hours after Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died in his Vatican residence, Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, provided a few early details of what to expect in the coming days.
The 95-year-old pope’s remains will be in St. Peter’s Basilica beginning the morning of Jan. 2 for people to pay their last respects and offer their prayers, he said. The funeral Mass, presided over by Pope Francis, will be in St. Peter’s Square Jan. 5 starting at 9:30 a.m. Rome time.
While he did not offer precise details as to what the funeral Mass of a retired pope will look like, Bruni said that Pope Benedict wanted his funeral and related events to be carried out “in a sign of simplicity.”
Bruni also said the retired pope received the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick Dec. 28, the day Pope Francis told people Pope Benedict was “very sick” and in need of prayers.
“Ask the Lord to console him and sustain him in his witness of love for the church until the very end,” Pope Francis had said at the end of his general audience.
Before the funeral, Bruni added, all scheduled events at the Vatican were to continue as planned, such as Pope Francis’ evening celebration of vespers and the recitation of the Te Deum Dec. 31.
The night before retired Pope Benedict XVI died, thousands of people had joined Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, papal vicar for Rome, in praying for the ailing pope, the former bishop of Rome, in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
In his homily, the cardinal said that “even in old age and illness, Pope Benedict continues to sustain humanity” with his prayers, and “in deep communion with Pope Francis, the pope emeritus is a sign of the beautiful face of the Church that reflects the light of the face of Christ.”
“As a priest, theologian, bishop, and pope,” the cardinal said, he always “expressed the strength and sweetness of the faith with essentiality and simplicity.”
Canadian Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto said in a statement Dec. 31, “As a priest for more than 70 years and in his time as bishop and supreme pontiff, Pope Emeritus Benedict offered each one of us a personal example of fidelity and of what it is to be a devoted disciple of Jesus.”
“As a theologian, he followed in the footsteps of the great St. Augustine in offering to us profound insight into the mysteries of our Christian faith, insight arising by God’s grace not only from his astonishing intellect and learning, but also from his personal holiness and pastoral care for God’s people,” Cardinal Collins continued. “His writings will help guide disciples of Jesus in the centuries that lie before us.”
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, president of the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation, said that while the last public event Pope Benedict participated in was a 2016 celebration at the Vatican for his 65th anniversary of priesthood, Pope Francis and other friends and visitors continued to meet with him, and images would circulate on social media “so that we continued to feel accompanied by his discreet but vigilant presence.”
Sometimes, Father Lombardi said, the retired pope would reply to letters or send brief messages, “from which his kindness and the sharpness and intensity of his spiritual presence invariably shone through.”
Summarizing the late pope’s life in the Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica, Father Lombardi wrote, “The horizons of Ratzinger’s thought and ecclesial service expanded over eight decades from his native Bavaria to the ends of the earth, then his gaze focused on the fascinating and mysterious face of Jesus,” up to the moment of his own “encounter” with the Lord.
“The legacy he leaves us is that characteristic of a theologian called to the See of Peter, who confirmed his brothers in the faith through teaching, sacramental service and the testimony of his life,” Father Lombardi wrote.
U.S. Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston also commented on Pope Benedict’s “deep and abiding faith and extraordinary record of theological scholarship.”
Cardinal O’Malley was present in Washington in 2008 when Pope Benedict met with survivors of clerical sexual abuse and “recognized the pain experienced by survivors and all persons impacted by the abuse crisis,” he said. “He was then, and at all times remained, committed to the church supporting their journey toward healing and doing all that was possible to ensure the protection of children, young people and vulnerable adults.”
Bishop Hugh Gilbert of Aberdeen, president of the Scottish bishops’ conference, particularly remembered Pope Benedict’s visit to Scotland in 2010. “The gentle and prayerful intelligence revealed during that visit disarmed his critics. He was often misunderstood, even caricatured.”
“Contrary to a widespread perception, however,” the bishop said, “he was a resolutely contemporary ‘confessor of the faith,’ deeply and critically engaged with modern thought, a lucid and unacademic preacher, and pastorally sensitive.”
By Cindy Wooden, OSV News