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The most important moment of my life

· Sixty years ago, 29 June 1951, Joseph Ratzinger was ordained a priest ·

A lark sang a joyful song when the Archbishop laid his hands on me

In his essential and crystal-clear autobiographical account published in 1997 — the original German is entitled Aus meinem Leben. Erinnerungen 1927-1977 ( Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977) — Joseph Ratzinger remembers with vivid simplicity his ordination to the priesthood. The great German Cardinal, Michael von Faulhaber (1869-1952), distinguished biblicist and patrologist, Archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1917, who during the dark years of the Third Reich had become one of the most courageous critics of Hitler’s regime, laid his hands on the 24-year old deacon on the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul in June 1951 and on his elder brother Georg and 42 other young men.

“We were more than 40 candidates, who, at the solemn call on that radiant summer day, which I remember as the high point of my life, responded ‘ Adsum ’, Here I am. We should not be superstitious; but, at the moment when the elderly archbishop laid his hands on me, a little bird — perhaps a lark — flew up from the high altar in the cathedral and trilled a little joyful song. And I could not but see in this a reassurance from on high, as if I heard the words ‘This is good, you are on the right way’. There then followed four summer weeks that were like an unending feast. On the day of our first Holy Mass, our parish church of St Oswald gleamed in all its splendour, and the joy that almost palpably filled the whole place drew everyone there into the most living mode of ‘active participation’ in the sacred event, but this did not require any external business. We were invited to bring the first blessing into people’s homes, and everywhere we were received even by total strangers with a warmth and affection I had not thought possible until that day. In this way I learned firsthand how earnestly people wait for a priest, how much they long for the blessing that flows from the power of the sacrament. The point was not my own or my brother’s person. What could we two young men represent all by ourselves to the many people we were now meeting? In us they saw persons who had been touched by Christ’s mission and had been empowered to bring his nearness to men. Precisely because we ourselves were not the point, a friendly human relationship could develop very quickly”.

A priest for 60 years, Joseph Ratzinger carries out daily, with humility and transparence, the work of making the one Lord of the world and of history present to women and men of our time. For this reason, L’Osservatore Romano offers Benedict XVI its best wishes, sure that its sentiments are echoed not only by those in the Catholic Church but by many others throughout the world. And repeats for him the words of the ancient prayer for the pope, invoking Christ’s protection and the only happiness that counts: “ Dominus conservet eum, vivificet eum, beatum faciat eum in terra et non tradat eum in animam inimicorum eius”.

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 17, 2019

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