Business as usual – Pope Benedict’s last weeks

benedictIn a third press briefing in as many days, Fr. Federico Lombardi shared the schedule of Pope Benedict’s final days as Pope. As indicated earlier it is nothing out of the ordinary (if you can call such a busy schedule normal for a man of almost 86…) and befitting the personality of the Holy Father. His decision to abdicate, momentous as it is, is also an exercise in humility.  And, if anything, Pope Benedict is a humble man, never working for himself, never seeking the spotlight. Reflecting this, Fr. Dwight Longenecker has a lovely anecdote:

“I met Joseph Ratzinger once on a visit to Rome. I was walking across St Peter’s Square when I noticed the famous figure of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith heading across the square wearing a cassock, overcoat and simple black beret. I smiled and bid him good morning. He smiled back politely and nodded and went on his way to the office. He always did seem better behind the scenes.

His farewell this week was rather like my meeting with him. A simple man walking across the public square of history–happy to be headed to the privacy of his study–where he has some work to do.”

Anyway, on to the schedule:

ash wednesday st. peter's squareWednesday 13 February, Ash Wednesday: In his last public liturgical celebration, Pope Benedict XVI will offer Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. Thousands of people are already queueing on St. Peter’s Square to attend this Mass, as pictured at right.

Thursday 14 February: The Holy Father will meet with priests of the Diocese of Rome.

Friday 15 February: A meeting with President Traian Basescu of Romania, followed by a group of Italian bishops on their ad limina visit.

Saturday 16 February: Meetings with President Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala, a group of Italian bishops on their ad limina visit, and Prime Minister Mario Monti of Italy.

Sunday 17 February: Pope Benedict will pray the Angelus with faithful in St. Peter’s Square, and in the evening he and members of the Curia will start their Lenten retreat. Cardinal Ravasi will lead this retreat, and no activities are planned until the 24th.

Sunday 24 February: Pope Benedict will pray the Angelus with faithful in St. Peter’s Square.

Monday 25 February: A meeting with several cardinals.

Wednesday 27 February: Pope Benedict will hold his final general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

Thursday 28 February: Following a farewell address to the College of Cardinals, a helicopter will take the Pope to Castel Gandolfo at 5pm. At 8 o’clock in the evening, the See of Peter falls vacant.

Photo credit: [1] l’Osservatore Romano, [2] Catholic News Service

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Pope Benedict: “I have felt your prayers”

Today, Pope Benedict spoke to the faithful for the first time since he announced his abdication. At the general audience he was visibly moved by the standing ovation he received from a Paul VI Hall that was completely filled (it fits 7,000 people).

benedict“Dear brothers and sisters, as you know I decided -” [prolonged applause] “Thank you for your kindness. I decided to resign from the ministry that the Lord had entrusted me on April 19, 2005. I did this in full freedom for the good of the Church after having prayed at length and examined my conscience before God, well aware of the gravity of this act.

I was also well aware that I was no longer able to fulfil the Petrine Ministry with that strength that it demands. What sustains and illuminates me is the certainty that the Church belongs to Christ whose care and guidance will never be lacking. I thank you all for the love and prayer with which you have accompanied me.

I have felt, almost physically, your prayers in these days which are not easy for me, the strength which the love of the Church and your prayers brings to me. Continue to pray for me and for the future Pope, the Lord will guide us!”

For the next two weeks, Pope Benedict is still our Pope, and the rest of the general audience was very much as it usually is: catechesis and messages to and from the various groups gathered in the hall. As Fr. Lombardi indicated yesterday, all planned activities will continue until the Holy Father’s last working day. These include ad limina visits from Italian bishops, the general audiences, today’s Ash Wednesday Mass, a meeting with the priests of Rome tomorrow, the Angelus prayer on Sundays and visits from the heads of state of Romania and Guatemala.

After the official statement, the bishops reflect

On Monday the Dutch bishops quickly released an official response to the announced abdication of Pope Benedict. Today, some of them shared personal recollections and opinions about the Holy Father. Here is a selection.

kardinaal-EijkCardinal Wim Eijk, Utrecht: “I remember him as a very approachable, congenial and pleasant man, and of course exceptionally erudite. […] I must say I have very good memories of him.

His high points I still consider his encyclicals, which are of course fantastic. I also have the best memories of his homilies – very often you discover the personal touch of the theologian in them. They were often very profound homilies which witnessed of a very close relationship with Christ and a deep spirituality. I always found them very impressive, and I noticed that others felt the same way.”

Mgr. Jan LiesenBishop Jan Liesen, Breda: “He is an incredibly wise man. I recall the first meeting of the International Theological Commission that I attended. That was in 2004. Pope Benedict XVI, then still Cardinal Ratzinger, chaired that meeting. There were thirty new members. After the deliberations he summarised the highlights of the meeting and he did so in Latin. Everyone understood what he said. I have never seen anyone do that.”

hendriks-sBishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary Haarlem-Amsterdam: “I did notice that his health was deteriorating and the last time I met him, last September, he was clearly very much fatigued. The Pope has clearly considered this decision with his closest associates and doctors and before the Face of the Lord.

We are very grateful to our Pope for the leadership he has given our Church as successor of Peter, in simple servitude, loving and conciliatory. There will be time later to reflect on the many achievement of our Pope Benedict XVI. Let us thank God for this pontificate and ask God’s blessing for Pope Benedict, over this month until the abdication and the rest of his life.”

dekorte2Bishop Gerard de Korte, Groningen-Leeuwarden: “Last October I was in Rome, together with a number of faithful from my diocese, and I was able to speak briefly with the Pope. Up close it was clear how old the Pope had become. I think that we can call the decision of Pope Benedict a wise one. No one is called to an impossible task. Leading the Church requires a physical and spiritual strength that the current Pope no longer has available.”