Pope Benedict XVI Emeritus spent his 91st birthday yesterday, April 16, in what Vatican City watchers described as “quiet and peace’’. At 78 years, he was the fifth-oldest Cardinal to be elected Pope at a Conclave following the transition of the revered Pope John Paul II now St John Paul. He served as Pope of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City in a Pontificate that lasted for just eight years from 2005 to 2013.
He set a record as the first German in the history of the Catholic Church to be elected Pope. He also proved many wrong who had thought that to be elected as the occupant of the Chair of St Peter was a life-long vocation when he set yet another record as the first Pope to resign in 600 years on February 11, 2013. Benedict announced his resignation in a speech in Latin before the Cardinals, citing a “lack of strength of mind and body” due to his advanced age. His resignation became effective on February 28, 2013. It is worthy of note that he resigned following the footstep of Pope Gregory XII in 1415. But it must be stressed that Pope Benedict XVI Emeritus is the first to do so on his own initiative since Pope Celestine V in 1294. As pope emeritus, Benedict retains the style of His Holiness, and the title of Pope, and continues to dress in the papal colour of white.
Pope Benedict XVI was born Joseph Aloysius Ratzinger on April 16, 1927. Ordained as a priest in 1951 in his native Bavaria, Ratzinger had established himself as a highly regarded university theologian by the late 1950s and was appointed a full professor in 1958. After a long career as an academic and professor of theology at several German universities, he was appointed Archbishop of Munich and Freising and Cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1977, an unusual promotion for someone with little pastoral experience. In 1981, he was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, one of the most important dicasteries of the Roman Curia (the Vatican Bureaucracy). From 2002 until his election as Pope, he was also Dean of the College of Cardinals. Prior to becoming Pope, he was “a major figure on the Vatican stage for a quarter of a century”; he had an influence “second to none when it came to setting church priorities and directions” as one of John Paul II’s closest confidants. He has lived in Rome since 1981.
Benedict was in the early days of his vocation as a priest a liberal theologian, but adopted conservative views after 1968. His prolific writings became an instrument he used to defend traditional Catholic doctrine and values. During his papacy, Benedict XVI advocated a return to fundamental Christian values to counter the increased secularisation of many Western countries. He views relativism, a philosophical school of thought that denies objective truth as well as the denial of moral truths in particular, as the central problem of the 21st century. Of the ‘Dictatorship of Relativism’, Benedict said, ‘Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of education is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which, recognising nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. And under the semblance of freedom, it becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own ego.’ He taught the importance of both the Catholic Church and an understanding of God’s redemptive love.
Pope Benedict also revived a number of traditions, including elevating the Tridentine Mass, a tradition in the Roman Catholic Rites which adheres to doctrines laid down by the Council of Trent, especially in opposition to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, to a more prominent position. He strengthened the relationship between the Catholic Church and art, promoted the use of Latin and reintroduced traditional papal garments, for which reason he was called “the pope of aesthetics”. He has been described as “the main intellectual force in the Church” since the mid-1980s. Benedict also emphasised that “Only creative reason, which in the crucified God is manifested as love, can really show us the way.
He was succeeded by Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, and he moved into the newly renovated monastery Mater Ecclesiae for his retirement on May 2, 2013. In his retirement, Benedict XVI has made occasional public appearances alongside Pope Francis. He made his first public appearance after his resignation at St. Peter’s Basilica on February 22, 2014 to attend the first papal consistory (In the Roman Catholic Church, an assembly of Cardinals convoked and led by the pope) of his successor Pope Francis. Furthermore, he made an appearance at the canonization mass of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, greeting the cardinals and Pope Francis.
On this special day, we wish the Holy Father good health in retirement.
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