Interiorly, I am on pilgrimage towards Home, Benedict XVI has said.
The Pope Emeritus talked about his pilgrimage, gratitude and prayer in a letter to the editor of the Italian daily “Corriere della Sera,” published on February 7, 2018, responding to inquiries about how the German retired Pontiff is spending the last phase of his life.
Here is a Zenit working translation of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s letter to Corriere della Sera.
Dear Doctor Franco,
It moved me that so many readers of your newspaper wish to know how I spend this last period of my life.
In this connection, I can say that, in the slow decline of physical strength, interiorly, I am on pilgrimage towards Home,
It’s a great grace for me to be surrounded on this last end of the route, sometimes a bit tiring, by a love and kindness that I could never have imagined.
In this sense, I also consider your reader’s question as an accompaniment for a stage
That’s why I can only thank you, assuring you all, from me, of my prayer.
It is signed by his own hand, Benedict XVI. The letter is typed, and is addressed to the Corriere’s Italian journalist Massimo Franco. It arrived at the headquarters of the newspaper in Rome on Tuesday, February 6, in the morning, with the inscription “urgent, by hand.”
It bears his address: Mater Ecclesiae Convent, V-120 Vatican City. It’s the Vatican’s convent to which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI retired in 2013, surrounded by his secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, four consecrated women, “Memores Domini, of Communion and Liberation, and assisted by his secretary Birgit Wansing, lay consecrated woman of the Schoenstatt Movement.
Benedict XVI’s great sensibility is known: musician, friend of Creation and animals, great delicacy of heart, his stature as theologian – for some, already a “Doctor of the Church” – and his spiritual stature. Too occupied with comparisons with his predecessor, one has yet to measure how his pontificate consolidated the bases of his Successor, discreet and decided in his way, not without analogies with Therese of Lisieux, whose “doctorate” he so supported, and her “little way.” In reference to the Patron Saint of Europe, monk and Founder, whose name he bears, others would say his is a “Benedictine” work – probably one and the other.
He expressed his emotion at the outset: “It moved me that so many readers of your newspaper wish to know how I an spending this last period of my life.”
And, at the moment when Pope Francis doesn’t cease to invite to move, he expresses his path: he walks toward, word for word, the House,” – a path of return. He speaks of an interior “pilgrimage,” as his strength to walk physically declines. “In this connection, I can say that, in the slow decline of physical strength, interiorly I am on pilgrimage toward the House.”
He perceives the love that one has for him. Doesn’t he receive numerous visits, and abundant mail, at the heart of his monk’s life made of prayer and study? He speaks of “great grace” – unimaginable – on this path: “It’s a great grace for me to be surrounded, on this last end of the route, sometimes a bit tiring, by a love and kindness that I could never have imagined.”
Five years ago, on February 27, 2013, he affirmed that he would continue to accompany the path of the Church by prayer and reflection.
A letter full of significance given that next Sunday, February 11, marks the fifth anniversary of the announcement of a revolutionary decision: Pope Ratzinger retired after eight years of pontificate, instituting for the first time the retirement of Popes.
Gregory XII in 1415 was the last Pope before Benedict XVI in 2013 to resign the papacy.
On the last day of his pontificate, February 28, 2013, while the Cardinals were going to enter in Conclave, he made this likewise unheard of statement, pledge of serenity: “Among you, in the College of Cardinals, there is also the future Pope to whom already today I promise my unconditional reverence and obedience.”
The following March 13, the College of Cardinals gathered in Conclave elected as Successor of Peter, the Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who chose the name Francis. He was elected at 76; today he is 81. Benedict XVI was elected at 78 and retired at 85. He will be 91 next April 16. His last “public” appearance was on the celebration of the 65th anniversary of his priestly Ordination, June 28, 2016. And recently, on October 28, 2017, Greg Burke, Director of the Holy See Press Office, published on his Twitter account a photo of the Pope Emeritus surrounded by two women religious whom he held by the hand for the photo, in keeping with his affectionate gestures, belying the “fake news” on his state of health. His visitors note how present he is and what an excellent memory he has.
Finally, as in a first spiritual testament, Benedict XVI invited above all to trust in Christ, during the last General Audience of his pontificate, on February 27, 2013. “In this Year of Faith, I invite you to renew your firm trust in the Lord and to feel yourselves loved by God who has shown us His infinite love. He guides and supports His Church always. Let us never lose sight of this vision of faith! May your heart be full of the joyful certainty that the Lord is close to us and that He accompanies us with His love!”
He himself just posed a powerful act of faith that instituted for Popes a new way of living the following of Christ in an advanced age, at the moment when strength declines, as he already said then: “These last months, I felt that my strength diminished and I asked God to enlighten me to make the right decision for the good of the Church. I thank you for the respect and understanding with which you received it.”
He invited to pray for himself, for the Cardinal Electors and for his future Successor: “I ask you to remember me before God and to pray for the Cardinals called to elect a new Successor of the Apostle Peter. Pray also that the Lord may accompany him with the light and the strength of his Spirit! May God bless you! Thank you.”
Contributed to by Anita Bourdin