“Let us never lose this vision of the faith,” said Pope Benedict XVI, when he retired five years ago, on February 28, 2013. He spoke words that are at the same time his roadmap and, in as much as Peter, the roadmap that he indicated to the whole Church and to each baptized person. Three times, he expressed his love of the Church, the Bride, and of humanity.
On February 27, 2013, during the Wednesday General Audience, he addressed a large assembly in St. Peter’s Square; then the Cardinals, the following day and, finally, after a helicopter trip, skilfully transmitted live by the Vatican’s television, he spoke some improvised words to the moved crowd, from the balcony of Castel Gandolfo.
In that Year of Faith, he posed an immense act of faith, and he indicated to all as roadmap this path of faith. “Dear friends! God guides His Church; He supports her always, also and above all in difficult moments. Let us never lose this vision of faith, which is the only true vision of the path of the Church and of the world. May there always be in our heart, in the heart of each one of you, the joyous certitude that the Lord is at our side; that He doesn’t abandon us, that He is close to us and envelops us with His love. Thank you!
On Wednesday his words were, first of all, of gratitude, before several tens of thousands of visitors. ”I thank you for having come in such numbers to my last General Audience. My heartfelt thanks! I am truly moved and I see the living Church! And I think we should also say thank you to the Creator for the good weather He gives us even now in winter.”
Confidence in Christ
Gratitude to God: ”I feel in my heart the duty to thank God above all, who guides and makes the Church grow, who sows His Word and thus nourishes the faith of His people. In this moment, my soul expands and embraces the whole Church, spread in the world; and I thank God for the “news” that, in these years of Petrine ministry, I was able to receive concerning faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the charity that really circulates in the Body of the Church and makes her live in love, and in the hope that she opens to us and orients us to life in fullness, to our Heavenly homeland.”
And confidence: “In this moment, there is great confidence in me, because I know, we all know, that the Gospel’s Word of Truth is the strength of the Church and her life. The Gospel purifies and renews, bears fruit everywhere, where the community of believers listens to it and receives the grace of God in truth and in charity. Such is my confidence, such is my joy.”
Confidence that Christ does not let boat of the Church “sink.” “And eight years later, I can say that the Lord truly guided me, was close to me; I was able to perceive His presence daily. (. . .) I felt like Saint Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Lake of Galilee (. . .). However, I always knew that the Lord was in this boat, and I always knew that the boat of the Church wasn’t mine. And the Lord doesn’t let it sink (. . .). And it’s because of that that today my heart is full of gratitude to God, because He never failed to give His consolation, His light and His love to the whole Church and also to me.”
Gratitude to his collaborators, his diocese and “the whole People of God,” thanks to whom he never “felt alone,” to “bear the joy and the weight of the ministry.” “Every day, with a father’s heart, I kept each one of you in my prayer.”
What the Church Is
The Pope who was not yet Emeritus, expressed his gratitude to the Diplomatic Corps, representing “the great family of nations,” to those working for “good communication,” and to all those who addressed to him “moving signs of care, friendship and prayer,” an “experience” of the Church. “These persons didn’t write to me as one writes, for instance, to a prince, or a great <person> that one doesn’t know. They wrote me as brothers and sisters, or as sons and daughters, with the sense of a very affectionate family bond. One can touch there with the finger what the Church is – not an organization, an association with religious or humanitarian ends, but a living body, a communion of brothers and sisters in the Body of Jesus Christ, who unites us all. To experience the Church in this way, and to be almost able to touch with the hand the force of her truth and her love, is a motive of joy, in a time where many talk of her decline. However, we see how the Church is living today!”
Then the Pope recalled the reasons for his retirement, the strength that diminished on responding to an objection: “I never abandon the cross, but I remain in a new way near the crucified Lord. I no longer bear the power of the responsibility for the Church’s government, but in the service of prayer, I remain, so to speak, in Saint Peter’s enclosure. Saint Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, will be a great example for me in that. He showed us the way for a life that, active or passive, belongs totally to God’s work.”
He thanks those that respect his decision. “I also thank each and all for the respect and understanding with which you received this very important decision.”
However, above all, in the following phrase Pope Benedict refers to the Church as “Bride,” which is significant of his theology and his spirituality. “I will continue to accompany the Church’s path with prayer and reflection, with that devotion to the Lord and to His Bride, which I tried each day to live, up to today, and which I would like to live always.”
My Unconditional Respect and My Obedience
From that moment, he had a thought for his Successor, asking all to pray for him, “for the new Successor of the Apostle Peter: may the Lord accompany him with His light and the strength of His Spirit.”
Insisting on communion in the Church, the following day he said to the Cardinals: “Among you, among the College of Cardinals, is also the future Pope, to whom I promise from today my unconditional respect and my obedience.”
On retiring, Pope Benedict “instituted” in some sort the “retirement” of Popes, under the twofold sign of “respect” and “obedience” to his Successor.
In the evening, at Castel Gandolfo, he greeted those who came to bid him farewell, exhorting them to always have in view “the good of the Church and of the world.” “I’m simply a pilgrim who begins the last stage of his pilgrimage on this earth. However, I would still like to work for the common good and the good of the Church <and> of humanity with all my heart, with all my love, with my prayer, with my reflection, with all my interior strength.” And I find a very strong support in your sympathy. Let us go forward with the Lord for the good of the Church and of the world. Thank you.”
He said simply: “Thank you and good night. Thank you to you all.” As an echo, on March 13, his Successor said simply: “Good evening” from Saint Peter’s loggia of blessings.