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Although it was not his last day on the Chair of Peter, Pope Benedict received the best farewell we could have given him during his last general audience, yesterday morning. And, in turn, it was the best sendoff he could have given us.
Secular media reluctantly reported “several thousand” faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square, but the official numbers were 150,000, which does not include the pilgrims who were forced to remain in the surrounding streets. In total, the number of faithful who wanted a last glimpse of the Holy Father may have been as high as 400,000.
I watched the audience via a livestream provided by SQPN, with live commentary by Fr. Roderick (recording available here). Nobody really knew what to expect until the audience had gotten underway. The Pope’s extra long tour across the square was no surprise, but as he had taken his place on the platform in front of the facade of the basilica, his very personal reflection did take many by surprise. Rather than a reflection on a Gospel passage or theological topic, Pope Benedict took the opportunity to express his gratitude: to God, the cardinals and the entire Curia, all of those working behind the scenes, the Diocese of Rome, and the entire people of God. Several times, he expressed his desire to remember in prayer everyone he ever encountered. A very touching passage, I found, was how people would write to the Holy Father:
“It’s true that I receive letters from the world’s greatest figures – from the Heads of State, religious leaders, representatives of the world of culture and so on. I also receive many letters from ordinary people who write to me simply from their heart and let me feel their affection, which is born of our being together in Christ Jesus, in the Church. These people do not write me as one might write, for example, to a prince or a great figure one does not know. They write as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, with the sense of very affectionate family ties. Here, one can touch what the Church is – not an organization, not an association for religious or humanitarian purposes, but a living body, a community of brothers and sisters in the Body of Jesus Christ, who unites us all. To experience the Church in this way and almost be able to touch with one’s hands the power of His truth and His love, is a source of joy, in a time in which many speak of its decline.”
Although today we will get our last glimpse of the man who has been our spiritual father for almost eight years, he is not leaving us, he said yesterday:
“The “always” is also a “forever” – there is no returning to private life. My decision to forgo the exercise of active ministry, does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences and so on. I do not abandon the cross, but remain in a new way near to the Crucified Lord. I no longer wield the power of the office for the government of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, within St. Peter’s bounds. St. Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, shall be a great example in this for me. He showed us the way to a life which, active or passive, belongs wholly to the work of God.”
Today, we are saying our final goodbyes, but it really isn’t a farewell. Although we may not see or even be aware of it, in the gardens of Vatican City there will be a loving heart, continuously praying for all of us.
Tomorrow, the frenzy of conclave preparation gets underway, but today, let’s remember, let’s say our goodbyes and let’s pray.
Because of a lack of words on the blog today, here are some photos of the last days, a period of farewell and gratitude:
Shaking hands with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, after the latter had given an emotional thank you message on behalf of the Curia.
And so, the last public liturgy of Pope Benedict XVI ends, as he is helped off the steps of the sanctuary on Ash Wednesday.
Cardinal Agostino Vallini welcomes the Pope, father and teacher.
Professor Pope. Benedict in his element, speaking to the priests of Rome about the Second Vatican Council, spontaneously and without prepared notes.
Now that we have gotten somewhat used to yesterday’s news, and all speculation has, well, not died down, but channeled into a few set directions, here’s a look at the major players in the coming sede vacante period.
The Apostolic Penitentiary, concerned with questions of conscience from the faithful and the pressing matters related to it, will continue to function during the sede vacante. Cardinal Manuel Monteiro de Castro, who leads the office, will remain in office likewise.
- Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (pictured) will remain on as Camerlengo. He will head the management of the goods and finances of the Holy See. He will also chair the daily meetings of the College of Cardinals for the daily affairs of the Church. Upon the election of the new pope, he will accompany him to the papal apartments and hand him the keys. Cardinal Bertone will also declare the result of every ballot during the conclave. Upon his invitation, the cardinals will meet for discussion and reflection when needed. The vice-chamberlain, Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, will work with him outside the conclave.
- The cleric prelates of the Apostolic Chamber will assist the Camerlengo. They are Msgr. Assunto Scotti, Msgr. Luigi Cerchiaro, Msgr. Paolo Luca Braida (Italians all), Msgr. Philip James Whitmore (British), Msgr. Winfried König (German), Msgr. Osvaldo Neves de Almeida (Argentinian) and Msgr. Krzysztof Józef Nykiel (Polish).
- During the sede vacante, the archpriests of the papal basilicas will take over the Pope’s liturgical duties. They are Cardinal Agostino Vallini (pictured) for St. John Lateran, Cardinal Angelo Comastri for St. Peter’s, Cardinal James Harvey for St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls and Cardinal Santos Abril y Castelló for St. Mary Major.
- Also involved in the papal liturgies during the sede vacante are the Master of Ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini, and the Almoner of His Holiness, Archbishop Guido Pozzo.
- The pastoral care of the Diocese of Rome will be the responsibility of the Vicars-General: Cardinal Agostino Vallini. for Rome and Cardinal Angelo Comastri for the Vatican City State.
- After the cardinals have entered the Sistine Chapel for the conclave, and after they have all taken the oath, Msgr. Guido Marini will call “Extra omnes!”. He will distribute the ballot papers to the cardinals and then leave the chapel..
- Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, in place of the Cardinal-Dean (Cardinal Sodano is 85 and therefore too old to take part in the conclave), will announce the start of the first ballot after any remaining questions have been answered. Cardinal Re will also ask the newly elected Pope if he accepts his election. If Cardinal Re himself is elected, that task falls to Cardinal Bertone.
- Cardinal James Harvey (pictured), as the junior Cardinal-Deacon, will lock the doors of the Sistine Chapel before the first ballot. He will be responsible for who enters and leaves during the voting: assistants to those cardinals who may be too ill to be in the Sistine Chapel can leave and return to collect those cardinals’ ballots.
- Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, as the College of Cardinals’ Protodeacon (the most senior Cardinal-Deacon) will have the honour to announce the “habemus papam” to the masses on St. Peter’s Square.
The Curia of the Church will in many ways cease to function once the Pope has abdicated. Only some pressing matters may be handled by the College of Cardinals, but she is not allowed to do anything that is normally under a Pope’s authority.
Two days ago, as his Lenten retreat had just wrapped up, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Roman parish of San Giovanni Battista de La Salle. He celebrated Mass there and afterwards met with the faithful of the parish, which is part of the pope’s own diocese. The children had been getting creative in the run-up towards the Holy Father’s visit, as the photo below shows…
Just something light-hearted to close the day.
Photo credit: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images
“O God, who are rich in mercy and who willed that the Blessed John Paul II should preside as pope over your universal church, grant, we pray, that instructed by his teaching, we may open our hearts to the saving grace of Christ, the sole redeemer of mankind. Who lives and reigns.”
This is the text of the opening prayer of Mass on the feast day of Blessed John Paul II, which the Vatican announced will be on 22 October. That date marks the liturgical inauguration of his papacy in 1978. Together with this announcement, a set of regulations was published for the celebration of the soon-to-be blessed’s feast day. As is the case for any beatified person’s feast, the celebrations are authorised on a local level, usually in the places where the person in question lived and worked. In this case, these places are the Diocese of Rome and the whole of Poland. In other places in the world, special permission needs to be obtained to insert the feast day into the liturgical calendar. The same goes for naming new parishes and churches after Pope John Paul II; that is for now only authorised in Rome and Poland. If and when someone is canonised and recognised as a saint, these limitations are lifted.
One standard rule regarding the feast days of the beatified will not apply in this case: thanksgiving Masses may be celebrated worldwide within a year after John Paul’s beatification, so no later than 1 May 2012, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments has said.
Photo credit: REUTERS/Michal Lepecki/Agencja Gazeta
Rome Reports, er… reports that Pope Benedict XVI has formed a commission to look into the alleged apparitions of the Blessed Virgin at Medjugorje. The formation of such a commission had been rumoured recently, but it now seems that concrete steps are being taken.
The commission will be presided over by Camillo Cardinal Ruini, vicar general emeritus of the Diocese of Rome, and will be part of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The goal of the commission is simply to find out what exactly happened at Medjugorje, if it still continues to happen and to remove the doubts that still linger.
At the moment, the Church has not issued any official statements about Medjugorje. That means that people are free to go there on pilgrimage, but that the Church will not support it as a pilgrimage site. It is, after all, unclear if it really us one. Local bishop Ratko Peric has spoken regularly against the supernatural origin of the Medjugorje phenomenon.