Pilgrim pope: Benedict says he’s journeying toward God

| Cindy Wooden | February 9, 2018 | 5 Comments

“I am on a pilgrimage toward Home,” retired Pope Benedict XVI wrote, capitalizing the Italian word “casa” or “home.”

Almost exactly five years after announcing his intention to be the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign, Pope Benedict wrote the letter to a journalist from the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

“I am touched to know how many of the readers of your newspaper want to know how I am experiencing this last period of my life,” the 90-year-old retired pope wrote. “In that regard, I can only say that, with the slow diminishing of my physical strength, inwardly I am on a pilgrimage toward Home.”

“It is a great grace in this last, sometimes tiring stage of my journey, to be surrounded by a love and kindness that I never could have imagined,” said the letter, written on stationery with the heading “Benedictus XVI, Papa emeritus.”

Massimo Franco, the journalist, said the letter, dated Feb. 5, was hand-delivered; the newspaper posted it online Feb. 6 and published it on the front page of the print edition Feb. 7.

During a meeting with cardinals Feb. 11, 2013, Pope Benedict stunned the cardinals and the world by saying, in Latin, “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”

He set the date for his retirement as Feb. 28, 2013. And, seen off by dozens of weeping Vatican employees, he flew by helicopter to the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo, where he remained until after Pope Francis was elected.

The day before he left was a Wednesday and the overflowing crowd in St. Peter’s Square made it clear that it was anything but a normal Wednesday general audience.

He told an estimated 150,000 people that his pontificate, which had lasted almost eight years, was a time of “joy and light, but also difficult moments.”

“The Lord has given us so many days of sun and light breeze, days in which the catch of fish has been abundant,” he said, likening himself to St. Peter on the Sea of Galilee.

“There have also been moments in which the waters were turbulent and the wind contrary, as throughout the history of the church, and the Lord seemed to be asleep,” he said. “But I have always known that the Lord is in that boat and that the boat of the church is not mine, it is not ours, but it is his and he does not let it sink.”

A monastery in the Vatican Gardens was remodeled for Pope Benedict, and that is where he has lived for five years, reading, praying, listening to music and welcoming visitors.

Until 2016, the retired pope occasionally would join Pope Francis at important public liturgies, including the Mass for the canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II in 2014 and for the opening of the 2015-2016 Year of Mercy.

Pope Benedict also attended the ceremonies for the creation of new cardinals in 2014 and 2015. But as it became more and more difficult for Pope Benedict to walk, Pope Francis and the new cardinals would get in vans and drive the short distance to the Mater Ecclesiae monastery to pay their respects.

The retired pope’s letter to Corriere della Sera echoed remarks he had made the afternoon of his retirement when he arrived in Castel Gandolfo and greeted crowds there before the very dramatic, globally televised scene of Swiss Guards closing the massive doors to the villa and hanging up their halberds.

“I am a simple pilgrim who begins the last stage of his pilgrimage on this earth,” he told the people. “But with all my heart, with all my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, with all my interior strength, I still want to work for the common good and the good of the church and humanity.”

In “Last Testament,” a book-length interview with journalist Peter Seewald published in 2016, Pope Benedict insisted he was not pressured by anyone or any particular event to resign, and he did not feel he was running away from any problem. However, he acknowledged “practical governance was not my forte, and this certainly was a weakness.”

Insisting “my hour had passed and I had given all I could,” Pope Benedict said he never regretted resigning, but he did regret hurting friends and faithful who were “really distressed and felt forsaken” by his stepping down.

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  • Bud Melman

    Well, maybe God will punish him for his part in the child abuse cover-ups. He shouldn’t regret stepping down, he should regret not doing near enough to stop it. Now Francis is in the hot seat for protecting rapists

    • Charles C.

      There seems to be more relevant comments to be made about a Pope approaching death who wants to leave some of his wisdom with us. He’s about to die, and this is what you focus on? Interesting priorities.

      From a 2014 article:

      “Pope Benedict XVI defrocked nearly 400 priests in just two years, for molesting children, according to a document obtained by the Associated Press.

      “The statistics for 2011 and 2012 show a dramatic increase over the 171 priests removed in 2008 and 2009, when the Vatican first provided details on the number of priests who have been defrocked. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi confirmed that the figures were accurate.”

      I don’t know if Pope Benedict did everything correctly, but he certainly took vigorous action as Pope. Let us learn what we can from him and pray for his soul, and ours.

      • Bud Melman

        Well, it’s a priority of mine if he didn’t do everything he could to protect my children and I have to hear how great he is. What did he do about removing bishops who were known to cover it up? Why was Law whisked back to Rome to avoid US prosecutors? Why does Roger Mahoney still have a job? Sodano? There must be 50 that could have been fired yet nothing. That’s a legacy I couldn’t bear. Let’s not be getting out the Hero speeches

        • Charles C.

          Dear Bud Melman,

          The article gives us a chance to reflect on our own mortality and the soon death of the Pope. I’m sure that you’re not one of those people who hears the word “Pope” in any context and automatically delivers a condemnation of his actions concerning sex abuse.

          I mean, “The Pope delivered a sermon after blessing a new swimming pool.” “But what about his record on sex abuse?” The Pope met with the Queen of England.” “But what about his record on sex abuse?”

          I’m not saying he’s a hero, but I am saying he took definite steps of which all can approve. His papacy also saw very few reported acts committed while he was Pope.

          Perfect hero? Maybe not, but is there more to him than the continued existence of certain bishops? Absolutely. Especially on the subject of death and his view of Church history.

          If he was made a Doctor of the Church at some point, I would not be surprised. Among his other characteristics, some good and some bad, he will be remembered as one of the most brilliant theologians ever to be Pope, and one of the greatest minds in the world today.

          Go ahead and find fault, I do it all the time. But recognize that all people are a mix of good and bad. Take what you can from the good.

          • Bud Melman

            Charles, I do understand where you are coming from and I have to disagree because I feel you are mistaken. You may consider him a brilliant theologian and some other things but I, and many others I know, certainly do not. You seem to say that his papacy isn’t or shouldn’t be defined by his lack of addressing the sex abuse cases where I think it absolutely starts and ends with that. His lack of addressing the situation caused a lot of pain, suffering and suicides which he could have easily addressed.
            Here is a story for you. When I was in the Air Force, I went to a tech school that was commanded by a general. He has some great credentials from his Vietnam days, a war hero in fact. We looked up to him. While at the school, he gave rank to females who was have sex with him and ultimately, started a prostitution ring using these women/airmen. When he was convicted by a military court, he lost his job and his retirement and rightfully so. I can guarantee that his legacy wasn’t his Vietnam War days but this sex legacy.
            What about Joe Paterno? Wasn’t his football legacy destroyed because of his sex abuse? People will remember him for that and not for his football (at least most of us).
            So, I feel this applies to the Popes because they are in such a position of power and influence. It doesn’t matter a hill of beans to me if Benedict met with the Queen of England or wrote some great piece of literature when he could have done much more. His legacy, in my opinion, will be like Paterno’s and the disgraced general.
            If I were to talk to Benedict and give him some advice, I would say if I were him, I would do everything in my power to make sure my legacy, as viewed by the majority, was clear. I would tell him to use whatever time he has left to grab the list of bishops and priests that still need to be defrocked from Frances, since he’s not using it, and start fixing his legacy. He probably doesn’t have to if enough people like you defend him and are enamored by him.
            I, however, am not impressed or enamored by him – I see him for what he is and call it like I see it.