“Lord, you know that I love you”. According to Pope Francis it is the “essence” of Benedict XVI’s life

Luca Caruso


28th June 2016 – “His Holiness, today we celebrate the story of a call which began 65 years ago with Your priestly Ordination in the Cathedral of Friezing, on June 29th, 1951.” This was the beginning of the speech Pope Francis gave this morning in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, addressing the emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, during the solemn celebration of the 65th anniversary of his priestly ordination. It was a truly “historical” event to see the mutual and sincere affection between Francis and Benedict XVI, and it was really touching for the people who lived it through the media and for those who could be there by the grace of God.

The Pontiff stressed that “the essence of this long story” is in the answer to the question Jesus asked Simon: “Do you love me?” “On these words – Francis said – the Lord founded the act of pasturing, because only if there is love for the Lord he can pasture through us: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you”. This is the milestone characterizing a life spent in priestly service and true theology, that You have described as “the search for the beloved” – the Pope added -; it is what You have always witnessed and still witnesses today: that the fundamental things of our days – of sun or rain – after which all the rest come, is that the Lord must be truly present, that we desire Him, that we are close to Him, that we love Him, that we truly believe in Him because if we believe in Him we truly love Him. It is this love that truly fills our heart, this belief is what makes us walk safely and calmly on the waters, even in the midst of a storm, as Peter did; this love and belief enable us to look to the future, not with fear and nostalgia, but with gladness, also for the future years of our life.

Thinking about the present, Francis added that “by living and witnessing today in such an intense and luminous way, this truly decisive thing – to have gaze and heart turned towards God – you, Holiness, go on serving the Church, you didn’t give up contributing to its growth with vigour and wisdom and you do so from that small Mater Ecclesiae Convent in the Vatican, which reveals itself to be something other than one of those forgotten corners in which the culture of waste today tends to relegate old people when their strength fails. It is totally the opposite; you should let your Successor say it forcefully, because he has chosen to call himself Francis!” “Thus, - the Pontiff concluded - Providence wanted You, dear Brother, to live in a place (…) in which you could find tranquillity, peace, strength, trust, maturity, faith, dedication and faithfulness, all bringing me good feelings and giving strength to me and to the whole Church. And I also think that You can bring a healthy and joyful sense of humour.

The last thing I wish You, all of us and the whole Church is to get the helpful hand of the merciful God who supports You, to experience and witness of the love of God to us; to be able to continue exulting with Peter and Paul with great joy while going towards the goal of the faith”.

In his speech of homage cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and editor of the Opera omnia of Joseph Ratzinger, stressed that “the essence of sacerdotal mission is to be filled with the mercy of God, so that we can help other people to have their hearts moulded by Him”. Cardinal Müller then presented the volume that Benedict XVI received as a present: “Teaching and Learning the Love of God” a collection of Ratzinger’s homilies on priesthood that was published in five languages: in Spanish by BAC Publishing company, in Italian by Cantagalli, in German by Herder, in French by Parole et Silence and in Polish by KUL. Celebrating the date in which Joseph Ratzinger was ordained together with his brother Georg, on the celebration day of Peter and Paul Patron Saints, Müller stressed that “as St. Ireneaeus –that we commemorate today – had said, the two principles of the Apostles show the apostolic milestones of the Roman Church. In fact, the celebration of the two Apostles had already anticipated the basic traits of Your mission: to announce the Word of God (Paul) and to confirm brothers in the Faith (Peter). Time has admirably revealed what was mysteriously contained in that beginning”.

“The College of Cardinals, along with Pope Francis embrace and thank You for Your long and generous ecclesial service” said cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, in a speech called “The time for gratitude”. Cardinal Sodano then cited the homily Benedict XVI addressed in the Cathedral of Friezing in Semptember 2006, with that “pressing invitation” to priests with the aim to “bring the Light and the Love of Christ to the world with the same feelings Jesus felt.” “It was the concept Paul expressed in the letter to the Philippians – the cardinal explained -. The feelings of Christ had to deal with a great love towards the people who are far, the poor, the sick, the old people and the children”. “While I was reading Your words – he followed – I thought they were anticipating the Teachings of Pope Francis, always inviting us to stay close to the people who suffer and to bring them fraternal love. It is also the message of the Great Jubilee of Mercy we are now celebrating.”

At the end of the celebration Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI thanked the whole participants, starting with his successor: “Thank you, Holy Father, for your goodness, which from the first moment of your election has struck every day of my life,” He also thanked Francis for letting him live in the beauty of the Vatican gardens. “Your goodness is a place in which I feel protected. Thank you for your appreciations, thank you for all. We hope that You can go forward with all of us on the path of Divine Mercy, showing us the way of Jesus, towards Jesus and towards God”.

Joseph Ratzinger also mentioned the word written on the holy card in order to celebrate the ordination of one of his brothers: “Eucharistomen”, that “refers to the appreciation and the new dimension Christ has given us. He turned his cross, sufferings and all the bad things in the world into appreciation and blessing. He transmuted the life and the world and he gave us, and everyday he gives us, the Bread of real life, that overcomes the world thanks to the power of His love”. “At the end – Benedict XVI concluded – we would like to be part in this ‘thanks’ of our God, to receive the real novelty of life and to help the transubstantiation of the world: it mustn’t be a world of death but a world of life, in which love wins over death”.

The songs of the choir of the Sistine Pontifical Musical Chapel directed by Msgr. Massimo Palombella enlivened the celebration. The heads of department of the Roman Curia and the editors who worked at the publication of the commemorative book, a lot of cardinals, the members of the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation, the representatives of the Group of ex-students (Schülerkreis) the New Schülerkreis, the Ratzinger/Papst Benedikt XVI German Foundation and the Papst Benedikt XVI Institute of Regensburg and the ex-secretaries of the emeritus Pope attended the celebration.