As I hurried along the path between the Commons and the women’s dorms to get to my next class, my friend, Lizzie, whizzed past shouting, ‘Habemus Papam!’ The white smoke had appeared. Joseph Ratzinger had been elected as the 264th successor to Peter.
Just a few weeks earlier, I had arisen in the wee hours of the morning to mourn with fellow students the passing of Pope John Paul II during a live televised program of his funeral in Rome.
This was my experience of the end of a reign and the election of a new pope. In fact, it is everyone’s who is alive today. Until now.
Pope Benedict XVI has done something not done since the 15th century: resigned the papacy.
It is a little strange. We were just discussing this at dinner the other night, what would happen when a new pope was elected. My thoughts fell to the passing away of our beloved Benedetto and the cardinals hurriedly rushing to Rome to choose a successor. I never thought of him stepping down, of a ‘lengthy’ preparation for a conclave.
It is almost a year ago to the day that Stephen and I stood in St. Peter’s Square listening to Pope Benedict as he gave the Sunday Angelus blessing to all the pilgrims gathered there.
We went to Europe for our honeymoon last year. When choosing places to visit, we tried to stick to places neither of us had been. But we just couldn’t pass up a visit to Rome despite the fact I’d traveled there several times before, including living there a semester of college.
It was Stephen’s birthday. We found a place in the square hours before he was to appear. We wanted a prime spot for viewing his apartment window as he looked out on the square. A cheer rose up from the crowd as the red banner was dropped from the sill.
He said a few words in English, greeting the large American crowd there celebrating Cardinal Dolan’s elevation. We prayed the Angelus in Latin and were given his blessing before he retired for the afternoon.
We surely count it as a blessing to have seen him before he leaves the papacy.
It seems his legacy was shorter than John Paul II. But, then again, is it?
He had a great hand in shaping the documents of Vatican II (as did JPII) and even more so when he worked as the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith just prior to becoming pope. He was close friends with John Paul II. They worked on many things together over the years, helping the Church to become what it is today. There is a wealth of writings Benedict has bequeathed to the Church, most recently his three-part series on the life of Christ. He wrote an excellent exposition on the fundamentals of Catholic theology, which is extremely rich and thought-provoking. The encyclicals he gave us as pope are concise, yet never lacking. He says much in a few words, as evidenced by his resignation letter. And there is so much more he has written.
His eight years have been full. He has given much to us as he served as our shepherd, of which I and many others will be forever grateful.
There has been much commentary today both on secular and religious platforms about Pope Benedict XVI and what his resignation will mean for the future of the Church and the world. A great one I came across was one written by my college Latin professor discussing Pope Benedict’s reasons for resignation. Worth a look.
I am sad to see him go, yes, but am excited and hopeful for the future.