Humble worker in Lord’s vineyard | Sunday Observer
Farewell to Pope Benedict XVI

Humble worker in Lord’s vineyard

8 January, 2023

Benedict XVI canonised forty-five faithful On October 7, 2012, Benedict named the 34th and 35th individuals as Doctors of the Church. As pontiff, Benedict XVI conducted numerous Apostolic journeys across the world, travelling extensively during his first three years of papacy

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has returned to the Father’s House. The simple and solemn but sober funeral of Benedict XVI took place on January 5. Pope Benedict XVI was the head of the Catholic Church from April 19, 2005 until his resignation on February 28, 2013.

His decision to resign as the 265th Chief Shepherd of the Roman Catholic Church pervaded a captivating arrangement. Two popes, past and present, traditionalist and reformist, both cloaked in white robes and invested with moral authority, coexisted on the same minuscule gardens.

His seven-year pontificate attracted enormous masses of people from all over the world to the Saint Peter’s Basilica. The pilgrims who have participated in the liturgical celebrations, Wednesday General Audiences and Sunday Angelus was greater than such gatherings of his predecessors. He was the key adviser of Pope John Paul II for over 20 years as his Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the most revered prelate, scholar, theologian, teacher and Catholic author of our time. The depth, candour and humble servitude were his lasting hallmark.

In “Jesus of Nazareth,” he described his personal search for the face of Jesus. He said, “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.”

The author and his wife had a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI on November 17, 2010, in the Holy City of Vatican. We were deeply touched, inspired, and encouraged by his words, “Sri Lanka is a beautiful country and I love your country so much.” It was indeed an unforgettable moment in our lives, and we treasure very much the gifts we received from the Vicar of the Christ.

Early life: 1927-1951

Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger was born to Joseph and Maria in Marktl, Bavaria, Germany on Holy Saturday, April 16, 1927. He was baptised on the same day, and he described, “To be the first person baptized with the newly blessed Easter Water was seen as a significant act of Providence.”

Private audience of Shemal Fernando with the Pope at the Vatican in 2010

At 5, Ratzinger was in a group of children who welcomed the visiting Cardinal Archbishop of Munich with flowers. Struck by the cardinal’s distinctive garb, he wanted to be a cardinal. His father’s outspoken criticism of the Nazis required the family to relocate at the foot of the Alps.

At 10, his father retired, and his family moved to Hufschlag, where Joseph began studying classical languages at the local High School. At 12, he enrolled in a minor seminary in Traunstein. This period lasted until the seminary was closed for military use in 1942.

In 1943, he was drafted into the German anti-aircraft corps and trained in infantry. As the Allied drew closer to his post in 1945, he deserted back to his family’s home in Traunstein. As a German soldier, he was interned in a prisoner of war camp, but released at the end of the war in May 1945.

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 and attachment to the Church.

Priest: 1951 - 1977

Ratzinger and his brother Georg entered Saint Michael Seminary in Traunstein in November 1945, and later studied in the University of Munich. They were both ordained in Freising on June 29, 1951 on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul by Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber, the same Cardinal Ratzinger had met as a child.

He recalled, “At the moment the elderly Archbishop laid his hands on me, a little bird – perhaps a lark – flew up from the altar in the high cathedral and trilled a little joyful song.” Ratzinger’s 1953 dissertation was on Augustine of Hippo and was titled, “The People and the House of God in Augustine’s Doctrine of the Church.”

His habituation, which qualified him for a professorship, was on Bonaventure. It was completed in 1957 and he became a professor at Freising College in 1958. Ratzinger served as a chaplain at the parish St. Martin, Moosach, in Munich in 1951 and became a professor at the University of Bonn in 1959, with his inaugural lecture was on “The God of Faith and the God of Philosophy.”

In 1963, he moved to the University of Munster. He participated in the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) and served as a theological consultant to Cardinal Frings of Cologne. He was viewed during the time of the council as a reformer.

In 1966, Ratzinger was appointed to a chair in dogmatic theology at the University of Tubingen. In his 1968 book “Introduction to Christianity,” he wrote that the pope has a duty to hear differing voices within the church before making a decision, and he downplayed the centrality of the papacy.

Ratzinger continued to defend the work of the Second Vatican Council, including Nostra aetate, the document on respect of other religions, ecumenism and the declaration of the right to freedom of religion.

During his time at Tubingen University, Ratzinger published articles in the reformist theological journal “Concilium.” In 1969, Ratzinger returned to Bavaria, to the University of Regensburg and co-founded the theological journal “Communio” in 1972, which is now published in 17 languages, including German, English and Spanish.

In 1976, he suggested that the Augsburg Confession be recognised as a Catholic statement of faith. He served as Vice President of the University of Regensburg from 1976 to 1977. In 1976, he was appointed a Prelate of Honour of His Holiness. His intense scientific activity led him to key positions.

Archbishop and Cardinal: 1977 - 2005

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 which elected John Paul I, who named him his Special Envoy to the III International Mariological Congress celebrated in Ecuador in September. In October, he took part in the Conclave that elected Pope John Paul II.

On November 25, 1981, Pope John Paul II 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.

In 1993, he was promoted within the College of Cardinals to become Cardinal Bishop of Velletri-Segni. In 1997, when he turned 70, Ratzinger requested Pope John Paul II’s permission to become an archivist in the Vatican Secret Archives but was not granted. On November 30, 2002, Pope John Paul II approved his election as Dean of the College of Cardinals.

Benedict was Special Papal Envoy for the Celebration of the XII Centenary of the foundation of the Diocese of Paderborn in Germany on January 3, 1999. He had been an Honorary Academic of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences since November 13, 2000.

Pope: 2005 - 2013

As the Dean of the College of Cardinals, he presided the deliberations in General Congregation during the Vacancy of the Holy See on April 2, 2005. In the same capacity, he presided at the Funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II on April 8, 2005, and the Mass for the Election of the Supreme Pontiff on April 18, 2005.

Then the Cardinals inaugurated the Conclave for the election of the successor to St. Peter, under the presidency of Cardinal Ratzinger. The single vote that afternoon produced no election. In the morning of April 19, 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.

At the balcony, Benedict’s first words to the crowd were, “Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the Cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord.

The fact that the Lord knows how to work and to act even with insufficient instruments comforts me, and above all, I entrust myself to your prayers. In the joy of the Risen Lord, confident of his unfailing help, let us move forward. The Lord will help us, and Mary, His Most Holy Mother, will be on our side. Thank you.”

On April 24, he celebrated the Papal Inauguration Mass, during which he was invested with the Pallium and the Ring of the Fisherman. On May 7, he took possession of his cathedral, the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran.

The Pope explained his choice of name during his first general audience in St. Peter’s Square, on April27, 2005. He began using an open-topped papal car, saying that he wanted to be closer to the people. Benedict continued the tradition of his predecessor and baptized several infants at the beginning of each year, in his pastoral role as Bishop of Rome.

On May 9, 2005, Benedict XVI began the beatification process for Pope John Paul II, waiving the five-year rule. The decision was announced on May 13, 2005, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima and the 24th anniversary of the attempt on John Paul II’s life. John Paul II often credited Our Lady of Fátima for preserving him on that day.

During his Pontificate, Benedict XVI canonised forty-five faithful. On October 7, 2012, Benedict named the 34th and 35th individuals as Doctors of the Church. As pontiff, Benedict XVI conducted numerous Apostolic journeys across the world, travelling extensively during his first three years of papacy.

His writings were prolific and generally defended traditional Catholic doctrine, values and liturgy. During his papacy, Benedict XVI advocated a return to fundamental Christian values to counter the increased secularisation of many Western countries.

He taught the importance of both the Catholic Church and an understanding of God’s redemptive love. He strengthened the relationship between the church and art, promoted the use of Latin, and reintroduced traditional papal vestments.

His publications constitute a point of reference for those entering deeper into the study of theology: 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); Introduction to Christianity (1968); Dogma and Preaching (1973).

His address to the Catholic Academy of Bavaria on “Why I am still in the Church” had a wide resonance. On his 70th birthday, the volume “At the School of Truth” was published. As a Cardinal, he wrote “Truth and Tolerance.” in which he denounces the use of tolerance as an excuse to distort the truth.

He has received numerous Honoris Causa Doctorates: The College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota (1984); the Catholic University of Lima (1986); the Catholic University of Eichstatt (1987); the Catholic University of Lublin (1988); the University of Navarre (1988); the Libera University Maria of Rome (1999); the University of Wroclaw in Poland (2000).

An accomplished pianist who loves Mozart and Beethoven, Ratzinger used to visit the peaceful halls of St. Michael’s Seminary in Regensburg to enjoy playing the grand piano in the main hall. He also loves walking through downtown Traunstein, where Ratzinger went through the harrowing years of Nazi rule and World War II.

Pope Emeritus: 2013 - 2022

On February 11, 2013, Benedict announced his resignation, citing a “lack of strength of mind and body” due to his advanced age. His resignation was the first by a pope since Gregory XII in 1415, and the first on a pope’s initiative since Celestine V in 1294.

In addition to his native German language, Benedict had some level of proficiency in French, Italian, English and Spanish. He also knew Portuguese, Latin, Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Greek.

On February 28, 2013, Benedict met with the full College of Cardinals and moved to the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo. Then, shifted to his retirement home, the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican Gardens near St Peter’s, on May 2, 2013.

After his resignation, Benedict XVI retained his papal name rather than his birth name. He continued to wear the white cassock without the pellegrina. He ceased wearing red papal shoes. In the monastery, the pope emeritus did not live a cloistered life, but studied and wrote.

He made his first public appearance after his resignation at St. Peter’s Basilica on February 22, 2014 to attend the first papal consistory of his successor. He doffed his zucchetto when Francis came down the nave of St. Peter’s Basilica to greet him.

Benedict then made an appearance at the canonisation mass of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, greeting the cardinals and Pope Francis. He attended the beatification of Pope Paul VI in October 2014. He also attended the consistory for new cardinals in February 2015, greeting Francis at the beginning of the celebration.

In 2015, Benedict spent the summer at Castel Gandolfo on pope’s invitation and received two honorary doctorates, from the Pontifical University of John Paul II and the Krakow Academy of Music.

The Joseph Ratzinger–Benedict XVI Roman Library at the Pontifical Teutonic College was opened to scholars in November 2015. The library section dedicated to his life and thought is being catalogued.

Benedict, in August 2015, submitted a handwritten card to act as a testimony to the cause of canonisation of Pope John Paul I. The pope emeritus was honoured by the Roman Curia and Pope Francis in 2016, marking the 65th anniversary of his ordination. In December 2016, Benedict XVI became the last living Cardinal appointed by Pope Paul VI.

In June 2017, Benedict received newly created cardinals in his chapel and spoke with each of them in their native language. In June 2020, Benedict visited his brother Georg in Germany for the last time before his death on July 1, aged 96. Benedict became the longest-lived pope on September 4, 2020, at 93 years, 4 months, 16 days, surpassing the age of Pope Leo XIII.

On June 29, 2021, Benedict celebrated his Platinum Jubilee (70th) as a priest. Following the consistory of August 27, 2022, Francis and the newly created cardinals paid a brief visit to Benedict. He was very much an authority figure, and immensely trusted by Church.

It was with a heavy heart that the Catholics all over the world learned his death on the last day of 2022. He held the office of Pope with great dignity, insight and courage. He indeed left a very personal signature as a thinker and as a shepherd.