As the Cardinals prepare for the serious duties of entering the Conclave and choosing the next Supreme Pontiff, the idea of having a new Holy Father any day now is exciting, but also has led us to reflect on the last papacy. We thank Pope Emeritus Benedict for his selfless service to the Church and pray for God’s will to be done in choosing our new Pope. Today, the Diocese of Arlington’s Communications team will reflect on the legacy of His Holiness Benedict VXI, Pope Emeritus, and relate how he personally touched our lives. Please feel free to discuss how Benedict influenced your faith in the comments below.
Seeing Benedict strolling the grounds of Castel Gandolfo makes me realize how influential he was to me as a young Catholic and how his particular style of communication compelled me to delve deeper into my faith. I had hesitations about his election; the media described him as “God’s Rottweiler,” after all. How could I connect on a personal level to someone I perceived as a staunch and rigid Cardinal; we disagreed on modern issues from rock and roll to Harry Potter! I didn’t really feel he was the right person to lead the Church during such uncertain times, especially not when the very principles of the Church were being ridiculed by society and media as bigoted and uncharitable. I thought that such a dogmatic and unyielding leader, in my opinion, couldn’t bring the Church together. Yet that was exactly what Benedict did.
Even so, I was happy to have a Pope from Germany, the country of my heritage, and it was particularly delightful to see him in Rome, where, for the first time, I began to read his writings and was amazed at his deep love and invitations to everyone from saint to sinner. Seeing him celebrate the Easter Vigil Mass after reading his encyclical Deus Caritas Est helped me to remove the beam from my own eye in order to see more clearly and without negative judgments. In his papacy, Benedict strove to connect to Catholics, especially young adults, and constantly surprised us by adopting new communications platforms like Twitter. He was one of the oldest elected Popes, but his messages weren’t outdated and his efforts were robust. Even to the end of his papacy, Benedict constantly reached out towards his Church and encouraged us through love. His papacy was, especially for me, inspiring and renewing as he guided the Church back to Christ. “Love is possible, and we are able to practise it because we are created in the image of God. To experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world—this is the invitation I would like to extend with the present Encyclical” (Deus Caritas Est, 39).
My clearest memory of Pope Benedict XVI is burned into my memory – partly because I was literally getting burned in the sun while waiting for a Papal Audience to begin. While I had the blessing of being able to see and hear Pope Benedict a number of times while I was in graduate school at a Pontifical University in Rome for several years, on this day I was sitting up on a dais only 15 feet from the Holy Father.
Why did I get to sit up front with the dignitaries and VIPs? Because my well-connected friend knew that on that very day my grandmother was being buried in the United States and that I was the only family member unable to be at her funeral. You see, he knew my affection for Benedict – a wise shepherd who was like a scholarly, loving grandfather. I was continually struck by our former pope’s clarity in teaching, his obvious humility and his simple love for God and for beauty. That day I couldn’t be with my earthly family, but I felt so intimately the connection with the Church as I sat at the feet of the Holy Father.
At the end of the audience, Pope Benedict gave the audience attendees and their families a blessing. My grandmother always said that she thought that Heaven would look like St. Peter’s. But on that day, with the always sincere Pope Benedict extending his blessing to my grieving parent, siblings and cousins, St. Peter’s looked like home and the Holy Father seemed like family.