An unprecedented event, the news of which is still ringing around the world: Benedict XVI has renounced the Papacy. The Pontiff himself made the announcement with simplicity and solemnity before a group of cardinals: from the evening of 28 February the Episcopal See of Rome will be vacant and immediately thereupon a conclave will be convened to elect the Successor of the Apostle Peter. This was specified in the brief text which the Pope had composed in Latin and read at the Consistory.
The Pontiff made his decision months ago, after his Journey to Mexico and Cuba and its confidentiality was absolute, after “having repeatedly examined” his conscience “before God” ( conscientia mea iterum atque iterum coram Deo explorata ), due to his advanced age. Benedict XVI explained, with the kind of clarity that he is known for, that his strength is “no longer suited to an adequate exercise” of the immense task of one chosen to “govern the barque of St Peter and proclaim the Gospel”.
For that reason, and for that reason alone, the Roman Pontiff, “well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom” ( bene conscius ponderis huius actus plena libertate ) renounces the ministry of Bishop of Rome which was entrusted to him on 19 April 2005. And the words that Benedict XVI chose indicate in a transparent way his respect for the conditions prescribed by Canon Law for the resignation from a post that is entirely unique in the world because of it weight and spiritual importance.
It is well known that Cardinal Ratzinger in no way sought his election to the Pontificate, one of the quickest in history, and that he accepted it with the simplicity of one who really does entrust his life to God. That is why Benedict XVI never felt alone, in an authentic and daily relationship with the One who lovingly governs the life of every human being, and in the reality of the Communion of Saints, sustained by the love and the work ( amore et labore ) of his co-workers, and nourished by prayer and by the love of so many people, believers and non-believers alike.
It is in this light that we must also interpret his renunciation of the pontificate, free and above all trusting in the providence of God. Benedict XVI knows well that the papal service, “due to its essential spiritual nature”, is also carried out “with prayer and suffering”, but he underlined that “in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith”, to be Pope “both strength of mind and body are necessary”, strength that in him is naturally deteriorating.
In the words with which he addressed the cardinals, who were at first astonished and then deeply moved, and with his decision, which is without a comparable historical precedent, Benedict XVI shows a lucidity and a humility that is first of all, as he once explained, adherence to reality, to the earth ( humus ). So, feeling no longer able to “adequately fulfill” the ministry entrusted to him, he has announced his renunciation. And he did so with a humanly and spiritually exemplary decision, in the full maturity of a pontificate that, from the outset and for the duration of almost 8 years, day by day, he has never ceased to amaze us and he will leave an indelible mark on history. Such is the history that the Pope interprets with confidence in signs of the future that is God’s.
St. Peter’s Square
Sept. 19, 2019
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