The Church and the world were stunned at the surprising and unexpected announcement made last Monday by Pope Benedict XVI of his resignation. He did not feel capable of carrying out any longer the duties of his ministry of governing the whole Church of Christ. Although it took us all by surprise, the signs of his failing health were there, especially over the past few months. This momentous decision was not taken on the spur of the moment, but after much thought and prayer; “having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, (he said), I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine Ministry”. As always it was not his own advantage he sought but the will of God and the good of the Church. It has been hailed as a humble and courageous decision. It reveals the unambitious nature of a great scholar.
For almost eight years, Pope Benedict has been guiding the Church through the stormy waters of the present time. He was an outstanding theologian with exceptional skills, but one who had the gift of explaining the teaching of Christ in a manner that was simple and accessible to the multitude. His writings and talks attracted the attention of a worldwide audience. They spread the Gospel message in a language suited to our age.
The Encyclical Letters of Pope Benedict XVI dealt with the fundamental topics of love, hope and genuine human development. His discourses and homilies were exceptional in their clarity and spiritual richness. It is rightly said that pilgrims flocked to Rome not simply to see him but to listen to his inspiring teaching. He valued and loved a dignified liturgy, as he was profoundly convinced of the sanctifying value of the Eucharist and the Sacraments. He regarded it as a providential coincidence that he was elected in the year dedicated to the Eucharist (2005). He saw the Eucharist as the “permanent centre and source” of his mission as Pope.
Humanly speaking he was self-effacing and reserved, an utter gentleman. However he loved truth more than popular approval and like his patron St Benedict, “preferred nothing whatsoever to Christ”. He will be remembered for his trilogy on the life of Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, which offered many people a readable account of Our Saviour’s life. It was the result of a lifetime of study.
Pope Benedict laboured unceasingly and generously for unity in the Body of the Church and for peace amongst nations. As he had done for 23 years as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he championed the cause of children who were abused, and modified the discipline of Church law in order to redress the wrong that was done but that should not have happened, and he promoted safeguarding structures that aimed to prevent such shameful abuse from happening again.
Pope Benedict was a man who proclaimed the faith and taught the Gospel. He did not place himself in the limelight, but kept that place for Christ, the Light of the world. On the day he took possession of his Cathedral in Rome, Saint John Lateran’s, he spoke of the mandate that is given to the Bishop of Rome, the successor of Saint Peter, namely, “to be the leader in the profession of Faith in Christ, the Son of the living God”. This has been the task he has performed with admirable commitment and constancy over the past eight years. He now retires to the quiet atmosphere of a secluded monastery in the Vatican gardens, where he will continue to serve the Church in prayer and meditation.
We wish him restful years of retirement with improved health, and we promise to continue to assist him with our prayers.
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