Diocesan News

Knowing Pope Benedict XVI

(SNR) - In his nearly eight years as the Successor of St. Peter, Pope Benedict XVI has faced the numerous challenges of the papacy with tranquil grace and thoughtful leadership.

Various people from the Diocese of Lincoln have had the pleasure of interacting with Benedict XVI, including members of our clergy. By all accounts, his personality is best described as quiet, studious and humble.

Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz vividly remembers the first time he ever saw Benedict XVI. It was 1965, and Bishop Bruskewitz was a student priest who was serving as an usher during the Second Vatican Council.

Benedict XVI was still Father Joseph Ratzinger at the time, a college professor and theologian who was already earning respect at the relatively young age of 38.

"I recall seeing him with the periti [experts]," Bishop Bruskewitz said. "He was like all of those great theologians … quite awesome to a student priest."

Though Bishop Bruskewitz never had the opportunity to take a class from Father Ratzinger, he soaked up the future pontiff’s wisdom through books and discussions with a close friend who was a Ratzinger protégé, Father Joseph Fessio, S.J.

"He [Benedict XVI] is an excellent theologian and has a wonderful gift of putting things in a language and format that can be easily grasped," Bishop Bruskewitz said. "He certainly produced a vast library of theological and spiritual writings that will be considered valuable down through the centuries. "

The two finally met when Bishop Bruskewitz was serving at the Congregation for Catholic Education at the Vatican. Bishop Bruskewitz found Cardinal Ratzinger to be an introverted, bookish, gentle man.

"I always found him to be incredibly generous with his time," he said. "Like many of great intellect, he was always inclined — even when he disagreed — to listen to the others side of the argument."

Despite the fact that Cardinal Ratzinger was prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, he would wear a plain black cassock and stroll through the neighborhood, popping into the shops and willingly providing directions to tourists and students when asked.

"Many priests were startled to know they were talking to the cardinal prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith," Bishop Bruskewitz chuckled.

Msgr. James Reinert, now pastor of St. Joseph Parish in York, served in the Pontifical Council for Justice of Peace for the last few years of Blessed John Paul II’s tenure and the beginning of Benedict XVI’s pontificate. He recalled the long hours that Benedict XVI worked while he held the chair of Saint Peter.

"It wasn’t uncommon, if I was going to the Vatican for something early, to see his lights on already at 6 a.m., and then to seem them still on at 11 or 12 at night," Msgr. Reinert said. He marveled that even on the last full day of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, he had back-to-back meetings and briefings, despite the challenges of loss of vision and physical strength.

Msgr. Reinert found it irksome that the secular media used the occasion of the pope’s resignation to attack the Church.

"It’s just incredible that people are taking this opportunity to [be disrespectful to] the Church," he lamented.

Msgr. Thomas Fucinaro has worked for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments since 1997. He had several occasions to meet with Benedict XVI both before and after he was elected to the papacy.

"What has left a deep impression upon me about the Pope is his incredible ability to listen and then to apply meaningfully in summation of everyone’s input," Msgr. Fucinaro said.

He described the pope emeritus as "flawlessly kind and considerate," which, combined with his leadership, holiness and intellect, "made him the remarkable servant of the Church that he was."

Msgr. Fucinaro said that Benedict XVI takes a unique perspective on the issues the Church faces into his new life of prayer and contemplation.

"I cannot help but think that the former Pope’s prayers and sacrifices for the Church will remain of great importance…in elevating us from the present trials which face us," he anticipated.

"He’s a holy man," Msgr. Reinert said. "I hope he continues to write. I enjoy reading his books."

"My impression is that it will be a tranquil and quiet retirement for him," Bishop Bruskewitz agreed. "I think he is inclined to stay out of the public eye."

Because Bishop Bruskewitz has been adjusting to his own retirement, he certainly can sympathize with how both Benedict XVI and his successor will adapt to the novel arrangement of a having a pope emeritus for the first time in nearly 600 years.

"I do hope that I do something worthwhile in our Diocese of Lincoln," he said. "Not interfering, but stepping back… and enjoying the leisure that comes with having the time to pray perhaps more slowly and devoutly than what you are able to do when you are in a busy office."

As the conclave convenes and a new successor to Saint Peter is chosen through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, all three men urged the faithful to pray diligently.

"Particularly, the goodness brought about by devout confession of sins and reverent reception of Holy Communion, as well as hours of adoration offered in front of the Blessed Sacrament, will be of great help in winning for us and for the universal Church the election of holy and truly worthy successor of Saint Peter as our next Holy Father," Msgr. Fucinaro advised.

Bishop Bruskewitz said Benedict XVI will not be soon forgotten. "He will be greatly missed."

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