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Thursday, 14 February 2013

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Life and Times of Pope Benedict XVI

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI stunned the world on February 11, 2013 by declaring that he will renounce the ministry as the Successor of Saint Peter from February 28, 2013 at 2000 hours, becoming the first Pope in nearly 600 years to resign from the office.

In a short and precise but carefully worded statement, he stressed that after having repeatedly examined his conscience before God, he came to the certainty that his strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrineministry.

Rear Admiral Shemal Fernando having an audience with Pope Benedict XVI on November 17, 2010 in the Vatican

He further said that he was well aware that his ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.

Just before his election to the Chair of Peter as the 265th Chief Shepherd of the Roman Catholic Church on April 19, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was identified as one of the most influential people in the world by the renowned Time magazine. Yet, at the Mass of Papal Installation, he asked, "Now, at this moment, weak servant of God that I am, I must assume this enormous task, which truly exceeds all human capacity. How will I be able to do it?"

Throughout the 7-year pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI has attracted enormous masses of people from all over the world to the Saint Peter's Basilica for his numerous public encounters. The number of pilgrims who have participated in the liturgical celebrations, Wednesday General Audiences and Sunday Angelus with the Holy Father in the Eternal City is greater than that recorded for these types of gatherings in the pontificates of his predecessors.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was not only the key adviser of Pope John Paul II of revered memory for over 20 years as his Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith but also the most revered prelate, scholar, theologian, teacher and Catholic author of our time having spoken on everything from sexual consumerism, private revelation and the "crisis of faith," to human rights, marriage, the priesthood and the future of the world.

Yet, the depth, candor and humble servitude of the Holy Father will likely be his lasting hallmark. In his book titled, "Jesus of Nazareth", the first published as the Pope, he describes his personal search for the face of Jesus. He says: "I wanted to portray the Jesus of the Gospels as the real, 'historical' Jesus in the strict sense of the word....I believe that this Jesus - the Jesus of the Gospels - is a historically plausible and convincing figure."

Birth and early life

Ratzinger was born to parents named Joseph and Maria at Marktl am Inn in Germany on Holy Saturday, April 16, 1927. He was baptised on the same day and on his early baptism he has said, "To be the first person baptized with the newly blessed Easter Water was seen as a significant act of Providence. I have always been filled with thanksgiving for having had my life immersed in this way in the Easter Mystery...".

In his memoirs about his early life, Milestones: Memoirs 1927 - 1977, Ratzinger depicts his family life as quite happy. Ratzinger spent his childhood and adolescence in Traunstein, a village near the Austrian border. In this environment, which he has defined as "Mozartian", he received his religious, cultural and human formation. The family was profoundly Catholic and his father attended three masses every Sunday.

In 1932, his father's outspoken criticism of the Nazis required the family to relocate to Auschau am Inn at the foot of the Alps. His father retired in 1937 and his family moved to Hufschlag, where Joseph began studying classical languages at the local High School. In 1939, he entered the Minor Seminary in Traunstein, his first step towards the priesthood.

His faith and the education received at home prepared him for the harsh experience of those years during which the Nazi regime pursued a hostile attitude towards the Catholic Church. It was precisely during that complex situation that he discovered the beauty and truth of faith in Christ; fundamental for this was his family's attitude, who always gave a clear witness of goodness and hope, rooted in a convinced attachment to the Church.

In his memoirs, Ratzinger wrote that he was enrolled in the Nazi Youth Movement against his will when he was 14 in 1941. World War II forced a postponement of his studies, until 1945, when he re-entered the seminary with his elder brother Georg. From 1946 to 1951 he studied philosophy and theology in the Higher School of Philosophy and Theology of Freising and at the University of Munich.

Priesthood

On June 29, 1951, both Joseph and his brother were ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Faulhaber in the Cathedral at Freising on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. He quickly displayed extraordinary theological gifts at the University of Munich and received his Doctorate in Theology in July 1953, with a thesis entitled "The People and House of God in St. Augustine's Doctrine of the Church".

In 1957, under the renowned Professor Gottlieb Sohngen, he qualified for University teaching with a dissertation on: "The Theology of History in St Bonaventure".

He went on to teach at Bonn from 1959 to1963; at Munster from 1963 to 1966 and at Tubingen from 1966 to 1969. During his last year he held the Chair of Dogmatics and History of Dogma at the University of Regensburg, where he was also Dean and Vice-President.

Ratzinger became widely known during the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965 when at the age of 35, he was appointed as the Chief Theological Advisor of Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Joseph Frings.

His intense scientific activity led him to important positions at the German Bishops' Conference and the International Theological Commission.

Archbishop and Cardinal

On March 25, 1977, Pope Paul VI named him Archbishop of Munich and Freising and received his Episcopal ordination on May 28 the same year. He was the first Diocesan priest for 80 years to take on the pastoral governance of the great Bavarian Archdiocese. He chose as his Episcopal motto a phrase from 3 John 8: "Fellow Worker in the Truth".

On June 27, 1977, he was elevated a Cardinal by Pope Paul VI, with the titular church of St. Mary of Consolation in Tiburtina. In 1978, he took part in the Conclave of August which elected John Paul I, who named him his Special Envoy to the III International Mariological Congress celebrated in Ecuador from September 16 to 24. In the month of October of the same year he took part in the Conclave that elected Pope John Paul II.

In 1980, he was named by Pope John Paul II to chair the Special Synod on the Laity on the theme: "Mission of the Christian Family in the world of today", and was Delegate President of the VI Ordinary General Assembly of 1983 on "Reconciliation and Penance in the mission of the Church".

On November 25, 1981, Pope John Paul II summoned Cardinal Ratzinger to Rome and named him the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, President of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and President of the International Theological Commission. The Holy Father elevated him to the Order of Bishops assigning to him the Suburbicarian See of Velletri-Segni on April 5, 1993.

On November 6, 1998, Pope John Paul II approved the election of Cardinal Ratzinger as Vice-Dean of the College of Cardinals, submitted by the Cardinals of the Order of Bishops. On November 30, 2002, the Holy Father approved his election as Dean of the College of Cardinals; together with this office he was entrusted with the Suburbicarian See of Ostia. In 1999, he was Special Papal Envoy for the Celebration of the XII Centenary of the foundation of the Diocese of Paderborn in Germany which took place on January 3. Since November 13, 2000, he had been an Honorary Academic of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

In the Roman Curia he had been a member of the Council of the Secretariat of State for Relations with States; of the Congregations for the Oriental Churches, for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, for Bishops, for the Evangelization of Peoples, for Catholic Education, for Clergy and for the Causes of the Saints; of the Pontifical Councils for Promoting Christian Unity, and for Culture; of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, and of the Pontifical Commissions for Latin America, "Ecclesia Dei", for the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law, and for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law of the Oriental Churches.

Election as the Pope

As the Dean of the College of Cardinals, he presided over the College's deliberations in General Congregation during the Vacancy of the Holy See, after the death of Pope John Paul II on April 2, 2005. In the same capacity, he presided at the Solemn Funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II on 8 April 2005 in St. Peter's Square, and the Mass For the Election of the Supreme Pontiff concelebrated by the College of Cardinals on April 18, 2005.

That afternoon the Cardinals inaugurated the Conclave for the election of the successor to St. Peter, under the presidency of Cardinal Ratzinger at the Sistine Chapel. The single vote that afternoon produced no election. In the morning of 19 April 2005, two ballots of the Conclave produced no election. However, on the first ballot of the afternoon, the fourth of the Conclave, Cardinal Ratzinger was elected. On April 24, 2005, he celebrated the Mass for the Inauguration of his pontificate in St. Peter's Square, receiving the Pallium and the Fisherman's Ring at that liturgical celebration.

Audience with the Pope

I have had the rare honour and blessing to meet the Holy Father on November 17, 2010 in the Holy City of Vatican along with my wife. We were touched, inspired and encouraged by his words, "Sri Lanka is a beautiful country and I love your country so much". It was a few days before the Papal Consistory that elevated the Archbishop of Colombo as a Cardinal and when we thanked the Pontiff for the blessing bestowed on Sri Lanka, he quipped, "Cardinal Ranjith has worked tirelessly for the Church and conveyed his Apostolic blessings on His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and all Sri Lankans".

It was indeed an unforgettable moment in our lives and we treasure very much the gifts we received from the Holy Father during the audience. He is a Pope who will be remembered as a man who appreciated the humanity of everyone he met. He is someone who gives you his complete attention when you meet him. It is that sense of humanity and openness that he gave to everyone that he will be remembered for.

Pope Benedict XVI has given the Church stability. He was very much an authority figure and he was immensely trusted by Church. It was with a heavy heart but complete understanding that the Catholics all over the world learned of the Pope's declaration of his decision to lay down the ministry as the Head of the Roman Catholic Church, an office which he has held with great dignity, insight and courage. He has indeed left a very personal signature as a thinker and also as a shepherd.

Publications

His many publications are spread out over a number of years and constitute a point of reference for many people especially for those interested in entering deeper into the study of theology. His best-selling books include: The Ratzinger Report (1985); Salt of the Earth (1996); The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000); God and the World (2002); God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life (2003). Special mention should be made of his "Introduction to Christianity" (1968) - a collection of University lectures on the Apostolic Creed and "Dogma and Preaching" (1973) - an anthology of essays, sermons and reflections.

His address to the Catholic Academy of Bavaria on "Why I am still in the Church" had a wide resonance; in it he stated with his usual clarity: "One can only be a Christian in the Church, not beside the Church". On the occasion of his 70th birthday the volume "At the School of Truth" was published, containing articles by several authors on different aspects of his personality and production.

As a Cardinal, he wrote 'Truth and Tolerance', a book in which he denounces the use of tolerance as an excuse to distort the truth. He also continued to defend the Second Vatican Council and the document 'Nostra Aetate' on respect of other religions and the declaration of the right to religious freedom.

As the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he clearly spelled out the Catholic Church's position on other religions in 'Dominus Jesus ', affirming that only in Christ there is salvation.

He has received numerous "HonorisCausa" Doctorates, in 1984 from the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota; in 1986 from the Catholic University of Lima; in 1987 from the Catholic University of Eichstatt; in 1988 from the Catholic University of Lublin; in 1998 from the University of Navarre; in 1999 from the Libera University Maria of Rome and in 2000 from the Faculty of Theology of the University of Wroclaw in Poland.

Pastimes

An accomplished pianist who loves Mozart and Beethovon, Ratzinger used to visit the peaceful halls of St. Michael's Seminary in Regensburg to stay in the bishop's apartment and enjoy playing the grand piano in the seminary's main hall. He also loves walking through downtown Traunstein, meeting and greeting people. Traunstein is where Ratzinger went through the harrowing years of Nazi rule and World War II.

Ratzinger as a priest had repeatedly stated that he would like to retire to a Bavarian village and dedicate himself to writing books, but as a Cardinal, he told friends that he was ready to "Accept any charge God placed on him." On election as the Pope he said,"... the Cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord. I am comforted by the fact that the Lord knows how to work and act even with insufficient instruments....".

I like to end this article with the following words of Pope's speech announcing his planned resignation,"Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer".

(This is an adapted version of the writer's article, "Pope Benedict XVI in the footsteps of Jesus" published in 2008)

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