“You know that this day for me is different from previous ones: I am no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church: until eight in the evening I will be still, and then no longer. I am simply a pilgrim who begins the last leg of his pilgrimage on this earth.”
February 28th, 2013: an unforgettable day in the Roman Catholic Church’s history. Following a brief helicopter ride to the Apostolic Palace at Castel Gandolfo and greeting thousands of faithful and well-wishers, the papacy of the “humble laborer of the Lord’s vineyard” ended at 8:00 p.m.
Benedict XVI shocked the world on February 11th of that year, announcing that he could no longer guide the barque of St. Peter and that in 17 days, the princes of the Church would have to begin the work of choosing a successor.
In a frenzy, the world tried to comprehend why this Pontiff would opt to become the first Pope to resign in over 500 years. While Benedict said it was due to his advanced age, that wasn’t enough of an explanation for some.
Following St. John Paul II’s equally courageous decision to remain Pontiff while suffering from Parkinson’s, many thought that it was due to the stress of a Church rocked by scandals, abuses, betrayals and it was frankly, just too much to handle. In other words, he was weak and needed to bail.
On the contrary, his perceived moment of weakness was his shining moment of absolute strength.
Benedict XVI did what few leaders have ever willingly done: placing the good of the Church first, over what some might perceive as “power”. He lived up honorably to the title of the Roman Pontiffs: Servus Servorum Dei (Servant of the Servants of God).
Now, many can (and still do) argue that he was authoritarian. As the once head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, he had the difficult job of defending Church teaching against the tidal waves of relativism and secularism in the world. Not the most popular of positions to be in, however, he did it not only with authority but with love. A paternal instinct, one might call, that followed through in his papacy.
Two years later, people are still wondering, some even hoping that Benedict XVI will come out of retirement to address this crucial moment in the Church’s history. It’s safe to say that they shouldn’t hold their breath. Aside from Benedict XVI’s obvious respect and reverence to his successor, he himself has made it clear that his mission is to serve the Church in silence and in prayer.
He continues to do so, nestled away in the heart of Vatican City State at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery. And for that, and much more, we can only say to this simple pilgrim: Thank You!