The real Benedict

Last Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI attended an evening of witness during his pastoral visit to Milan. There, several people had the opportunity to ask him a question. One of them was 7-year-old Cat Tien of Vietnam, who, greeting him with a simple “Ciao, Papa!”, asked the Holy Father about the memories of his childhood and family.

Here is the answer that Benedict gave:

“Thank you, dearest, and your parents: thank you from my heart. So then, you have asked what my memories of my family are like: there are so many! I would like to say just a few things. For us, the essential point for the family was always Sunday, but Sunday already began on Saturday evening. Our father would read us the readings, the readings for Sunday, from a book very widespread in Germany at the time, in which the texts were also explained. That is how Sunday began: we were already entering into the liturgy, in an atmosphere of joy.

The next day we would go to Mass. I come from a home close to Salzburg, so we had a lot of music – Mozart, Schubert, Haydn – and when the Kyrie started, it was like heaven was opened.

And then at home it was important, of course, to have a big lunch together. And then we sang a lot: my brother is a great musician, already as a boy he made compositions for all of us, so the whole family would sing. Dad would play the zither and sing; those are unforgettable moments.

Then, of course, we went on trips and walks together; we were close to a forest and so walking in the forest was a very beautiful thing: adventures, games, etcetera.

In a word, we were of one heart and one soul, with so many shared experiences, even in very difficult times, because there was wartime, before the dictatorship, and then poverty. But this mutual love among us, this joy even over simple things was strong, and this made it possible to overcome and bear even these things.

It seems to me that this was very important: that even little things gave joy, because in this way the heart of the other was expressed. And in this way we grew up in the certainty that it is good to be a man, because we saw that the goodness  of God was reflected in parents and siblings.

And to tell the truth, if I try to imagine a little of how it will be in heaven, it always seems to me like the time of my youth, of my childhood. Thus, in this context of trust, of joy, and of love, we were happy, and I think that in heaven it must be similar to what it was like in my youth. In this sense I hope to go “home,” in going to “the other part of the world.””

The pope may be, well, the pope, shepherd of more than a billion Catholics, professor, theologian,writer, spiritual father… he is also so very human, and in encounters with children that becomes touchingly apparent. We saw that in Spain, in Benin, and now in Milan. Meet the real Benedict…

Photo credit: Reuters/Alessandro Garofalo

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