POPE BENEDICT: 'STORMY WATERS' FOR CHURCH BUT GOD WILL NOT LET IT SINK
[Pope Benedict XVI delivers a speechduring his last weekly audience on February 27, 2013 at St Peter’s square at the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI will hold the last audience of his pontificate in St Peter’s Square on Wednesday on the eve of his historic resignation as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS]
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 4, 2013 (PHILSTAR) Agence France-Presse - Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday admitted “stormy waters” during his pontificate as he held his last audience in St. Peter’s Square before tens of thousands of pilgrims on the eve of his historic resignation.
Benedict toured the Vatican plaza in his famous “popemobile”, stopping to kiss children and waving to the crowd of more than 100,000 gathered under a bright, cloudless sky.
Some in the throng held up huge banners with messages such as “Benedict, we’ll miss you!” and “The pope is the heart of this city!” or waved the Vatican’s yellow and white flag at the pontiff’s last public event.
The pope drew an analogy between his reign and a miracle recounted in the Bible when Jesus Christ calmed the waters as he was sailing with his disciples including St. Peter — a fisherman by trade who is believed by Christians to be the first pope.
“The Lord gave us days of sun and of light breeze, days in which the fishing was good. There were also moments when there were stormy waters and headwinds,” the pope said.
“But I always knew that God was in that boat and I always knew that the boat of the Church is not mine, is not ours, but is his and he will not let it sink,” the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics told the cheering crowd.
Benedict also said his decision to resign — which makes him the first pope to do so since the Middle Ages — had not been an easy one but had been taken for the good of the Church.
“I took this step in full awareness of its gravity and novelty but with profound serenity of spirit,” he said, adding: “I will continue to accompany the Church with prayer and reflection.”
Pilgrims flocked to bid a final farewell to the frail 85-year-old, who earlier this month abruptly cut short his pontificate, an eight-year reign dogged by scandal and Vatican infighting, by declaring he was too weak to keep up with the modern world.
“I have come in gratitude for everything he has done these past eight years,” said Father Giulio, a 67-year-old priest from the Abruzzo region.
“Resigning is a powerful message for every Christian. He resigned without bitterness but instead in sweetness and serenity,” he said.
The Vicar General of Rome, cardinal Agostino Vallini, said residents of the Italian capital were turning out in great numbers because they felt a special bond with the ageing pope.
“It is something our heart and our faith demands,” Vallini told Vatican Radio ahead of the event.
“Rome likes the pope a lot and feels a special affection for him so it could not miss his last public act,” he said.
Benedict’s resignation is a break with Catholic tradition that has worried conservatives but kindled the hopes of Catholics around the world who want a successor who will breathe new life into the Church.
Rome has been gripped by speculation over what prompted Benedict to resign and who the leading candidates might be to replace him, as cardinals from around the world fly in ahead of the conclave to elect the next pope.
Rumors and counter-rumors in the Italian media suggest cut-throat behind-the-scenes lobbying, prompting the Vatican to condemn what it has called “unacceptable pressure” to influence the papal election.
Campaign groups have also lobbied the Vatican to exclude two cardinals accused of covering up child sex abuse from the upcoming election conclave.
The Vatican has said Benedict will receive the title of “Roman pontiff emeritus” and can still be addressed as “Your Holiness” and wear the white papal cassock after he officially steps down at 1900 GMT on Thursday.
Just before that time, the Vatican said Benedict will be whisked off by helicopter to the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo near Rome where he will begin a life out of the public eye.
Benedict will wave from the residence’s balcony one last time before retreating to a private chapel and, as he has said, a life “hidden from the world”.
Starting next week, cardinals from around the world will begin a series of meetings to decide what the priorities for the Catholic Church should be, set a start date for the conclave and consider possible candidates for pope.
The conclave — a centuries-old tradition with an elaborate ritual — is supposed to be held within 15 to 20 days of the death of the pope, but Benedict has given special dispensation for the cardinals to bring that date forward as no mourning period is needed.
A total of 115 “cardinal electors” are scheduled to take part after one voter said he was too sick and another, British cardinal Keith O’Brien, said he would not be taking part after allegations emerged that he made unwanted advances towards priests in the 1980s.
FROM THE MANILA BULLETIN
Pope Legacy: Teacher Who Returned To Church Roots February 28, 2013, 8:46pm
[GOODBYE, POPE BENEDICT: A helicopter with Pope Benedict XVI onboard leaves the Vatican on Thursday as well-wishers atop the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica bid him goodbye. (AP)]
VATICAN CITY (AP) – On April 4, 2005, a priest walked up to the Renaissance palazzo housing the Vatican’s doctrine department and asked the doorman to call the official in charge: It was the first day of business after Pope John Paul II had died, and the cleric wanted to get back to work.
The office’s No. 2, Archbishop Angelo Amato, answered the phone and was stunned. This was no ordinary priest. It was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, his boss, who under the Vatican’s arcane rules had technically lost his job when John Paul died.
“It tells me of the great humility of the man, the great sense of duty, but also the great awareness that we are here to do a job,” said Bishop Charles Scicluna, who worked with Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI, inside the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In resigning, Scicluna said, Benedict is showing the same sense of humility, duty, and service as he did after the Catholic Church lost its last pope.
“He has done his job.”
Church In Crisis
When Benedict flies off into retirement by helicopter on Thursday, he will leave behind a church in crisis – one beset by sex scandal, internal divisions and dwindling numbers.
But the 85-year-old pope can count on a solid legacy: While his very resignation was his most significant act, Benedict – in a quieter way – also set the church back on a conservative, tradition-minded path.
He was guided by the firm conviction that many of the ills afflicting the church could be traced to a misreading of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
He insisted that the 1962-65 meetings that brought the church into the modern era were not a radical break from the past, as portrayed by many liberals, but rather a continuation of the best traditions of the 2,000-year-old church.
Benedict was the teacher pope, a theology professor who turned his Wednesday general audiences into master classes about the Catholic faith and the history, saints and sinners that contributed to it.
In his teachings, he sought to boil Christianity down to its essential core. He didn’t produce volumes of encyclicals like his predecessor, just three: on charity, hope and love. (He penned a fourth, on faith, but retired before finishing it.)
Considered by many to be the greatest living theologian, he authored more than 65 books, stretching from the classic “Introduction to Christianity” in 1968 to the final installment of his triptych on “Jesus of Nazareth” last year – considered by some to be his most important contribution to the church. In between he produced the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” – essentially a how-to guide to being a Catholic.
Benedict spent the bulk of his early career in the classroom, as a student and then professor of dogma and fundamental theology at universities in Bonn, Muenster, Tuebingen and Regensburg, Germany.
“His classrooms were crowded,” recalled the Rev. Joseph Fessio, a theology student of Ratzinger’s at the University of Regensburg from 1972-74, and now the English-language publisher of his books.
“I don’t recall him having notes,” Fessio said. “He would stand at the front of the class, and he wasn’t looking at you, not with eye contact, but he was looking over you, almost meditating.”
It’s a style that he’s kept for 40 years.
“If you hear him give a sermon, he’s speaking not from notes, but you can write it down and print it,” Fessio said. “Every comma is there. Every pause.”
Benedict Never Wanted To Be Pope
Benedict never wanted to be pope and he didn’t take easily to the rigors of the job. Elected April 19, 2005, after one of the shortest conclaves in history, Benedict was, at 78, the oldest pope elected in 275 years and the first German in nearly a millennium.
At first he was stiff.
Giovanni Maria Vian, editor of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, recalled that in the early days Benedict used to greet crowds with an awkward victory gesture “as if he were an athlete.”
“At some point someone told him that wasn’t a very papal gesture,” Vian said. Benedict changed course, opting for an open-armed embrace or an almost effeminate twinkling of his fingers on an outstretched hand as a way of connecting with the crowd.
“No one is born a pope,” Vian said. “You have to learn to be a pope.”
And slowly Benedict learned.
Crowds accustomed to a quarter-century of superstar John Paul II, grew to embrace the soft-spoken, scholarly Benedict, who had an uncanny knack for being able to absorb different points of view and pull them together in a coherent whole.
He traveled, though less extensively than John Paul, and presided over Masses that were heavy on Latin, Gregorian chant and the silk brocaded vestments of his pre-Vatican II predecessors.
Benedict seemed genuinely surprised by the warm reception he received — as well as the harsh criticism when things went wrong, as they did when he lifted the excommunication of a bishop who turned out to be a Holocaust-denier.
For a theologian who for decades had worked toward reconciliation between Catholics and Jews, the outrage was fierce and painful.
Benedict was also burdened by what he called the “filth” of the church: the sins and crimes of its priests.
As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Benedict saw first-hand the scope of sex abuse as early as the 1980s, when he tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Vatican legal department to let him remove abusive priests quickly.
But it was 2001 before he finally stepped in, ordering all abuse cases sent to his office for review.
“We used to discuss the cases on Fridays; he used to call it the Friday penance,” recalled Scicluna, who was Ratzinger’s sex crimes prosecutor from 2002-2012.
Still, to this day, Benedict hasn’t sanctioned a single bishop for covering up abuse.
“Unfortunately, Pope Benedict’s legacy in the abuse crisis is one of mistaken emphases, missed opportunities, and gestures at the margin, rather than changes at the center,” said Terrence McKiernan of BishopAccountability.org, an online resource of abuse documentation.
He praised Benedict for meeting with victims, and acknowledged the strides the Vatican made under his leadership. But, he said Benedict ignored the problem for too long, “prioritizing concerns about dissent over the massive evidence of abuse that was pouring into his office.”
“He acted as no other pope has done when pressed or forced, but his papacy has been reactive on this central issue,” McKiernan said in an email.
Benedict also gets poor grades from liberal Catholics, who felt abandoned by a pope who seemed to roll back the clock on the modernizing reforms of Vatican II and launched a crackdown on Vatican nuns, deemed to have strayed too far from his doctrinal orthodoxy.
Some priests are now living in open rebellion with church teaching, calling for a rethink on everything from homosexuality to women’s ordination to priestly celibacy.
“As Roman Catholics worldwide prepare for the conclave, we are reminded that the current system remains an ‘old boys club’ and does not allow for women’s voices to participate in the decision of the next leader of our church,” said Erin Saiz Hanna, head of the Women’s Ordination Conference, a group that ordains women in defiance of church teaching.
The group plans to raise pink smoke during the conclave “as a prayerful reminder of the voices of the church that go unheard.”
But Benedict won’t be around at the Vatican to see it. His work is done. “Mission Accomplished,” Vian said.
And as the pope told 150,000 people in his final speech as pope: “To love the church is to have the courage to make difficult, painful choices, always keeping in mind the good of the church, not oneself.”
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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