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An unexpected announcement ringing through the Consistory Hall

· Cardinal Angelo Sodano speaks of the Church’s gratitude and spiritual closeness ·

Dismay, surprise, astonishment and emotion were the immediate reactions to Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement to “renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome” in the Consistory Hall on Monday, 11 February. These sentiments were etched on the faces of the cardinals, bishops and prelates — assembled for the Ordinary Public Consistory — who heard the startling announcement in the Pope’s own voice.

Eyes met and a murmur grew in the hall as surprise faded into sorrow. However, after the first few minutes of confusion, the unanimous recognition of the Pope’s extraordinary act of humility rippled through the hall. In addition to the Cardinals, among those present were the papal masters of ceremony, representatives of the postulations, choristers of the Sistine Chapel Choir, papal chair bearers and technicians.

The decision has taken everyone by surprise. As does the fact that the Pope — accompanied by Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Prefect of the Papal Household; Archbishop Guido Pozzo, the Pope’s Almoner; Mons. Leonardo Sapienza, Regent of the Papal Household; and Mons. Alfred Xuereb of the Pope’s Private Secretariat — chose to communicate it personally. At the end of Midday Prayer and after the announcement that the three canonizations would be held on 12 May, Benedict XVI read in Latin the Declaratio written in his own hand. Those present listened to the Pope in an almost unreal silence, while he spoke in a firm, calm voice, explaining the reasons for his decision, made “with full freedom”, and after having repeatedly examined his conscience before God.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals, spoke on behalf of all the cardinals. “Your Holiness, beloved and venerable Successor of Peter”, he said, “your moving message has struck this hall like a bolt from the blue. We heard it with a sense of bewilderment, almost totally unbelieving. In your words we heard the great affection which you have always had for God’s holy Church, for this Church which you have so deeply loved. On behalf of the apostolic ‘upper room’, the College of Cardinals, on behalf of your dear colleagues, may I be permitted to tell you that we are closer to you than ever, just as we have been especially close in these luminous eight years of your pontificate”. The Cardinal addressed Benedict XVI, stating: “before 28 February, as you said, the day on which you wish to give the last word to your papal service, carried out so lovingly, so humbly, before 28 February we will have an opportunity to express our sentiments to you better. A great number of pastors and faithful, all over the world, will do likewise, as will numerous people of good will, together with the authorities of a great many countries”. He then made a reference to the upcoming commitments of the Pope. During this month we shall have the joy of hearing your voice as a pastor: on Ash Wednesday, then on Thursday with the clergy of Rome, at the Angelus on the coming Sundays, at the Wednesday General Audiences. There will thus be many occasions to hear your fatherly voice again”. He concluded: “Your mission will nevertheless continue”. You said that you will always be close to us through your witness and through your prayers. Of course, the stars of heaven always continue to shine and thus the star of your pontificate will always shine among us. We are close to you, Holy Father, please bless us”.

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Sept. 19, 2019

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