The eighth year of the Pontificate of Benedict XVI is just beginning. On 19 April 2005 at the age of 78 he was elected in less than a day, in the largest Conclave history has ever known. A date celebrated with joy and preceded by the traditionally private celebration of his 85th birthday, an age which had not been reached by any Pope since 1895 and was therefore celebrated with more warmth than usual. Thus, on these occasions in April, the rejoicing and good wishes of the whole was world redoubled and expressed affection and widespread esteem to a degree unforeseeable at the time of his election. Indeed, the amount of prejudice, if not actual aversion with which the lightening decision of the College of Cardinals was met in various, even Catholic, contexts should not be forgotten. This prejudice and opposition, with regard to Cardinal Ratzinger, dated back at least to the mid-1980s, but in no way corresponded to his true personality.
Indeed, the Successor of John Paul II — his most authoritative collaborator was summoned to Rome almost immediately by the Polish Pope, who had himself long been viewed with hostility — was set against him, in accordance with the banal stereotypes. It is therefore a Pontificate which began uphill and which the Pontiff has faced, day after day, with the clear and patient serenity that he had shown previously when on 24 April 2005 he asked the faithful to pray for him so that he might not flee “for fear of the wolves”.
That Homily was the first of what has since become a long series whose clarity and depth would not be outshone by the sermons of Leo the Great, the first by a Bishop of Rome to have been preserved. They are distinguished by an exemplary balance between classical heredity and Christian innovation, on a par with Pope Benedict’s intention to move in harmony between reason and faith. In order to address and speak to all, as he suggested at the Assisi meeting, the invitation — for the first time a quarter of a century after the meeting John Paul II wanted for believers — was even sent to non-believers to proclaim the Gospel to today’s world.
It was also like this for his Homily on his birthday — which coincides with the day of his Baptism, Holy Saturday in 1927 — when Benedict XVI spoke of the saints commemorated in the liturgical calendar, Bernadette Soubirous and Benedict Joseph Labre, of Mary, Mother of God, and of the pure water of truth for which the world thirsts, often unaware. These friends are invisible, but no less real for this. The Pope feels their closeness in the Communion of Saints, just as he feels the friendship of so many people who pray for him every day, or even only look at him with liking, listening attentively to his words.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 20, 2020
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