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Pope Benedict XVI: Legacy of a Gracious Pope
Pat McCloskey, OFM
Source: St. Anthony Messenger magazine
Published: Saturday, March 30, 2013
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On February 11, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world when he concluded a routine meeting of cardinals living in Rome by announcing that he would resign on February 28.

The pope said he recognized “my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.” He is the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415. Here’s a quick look at some highlights from his eight-year papacy.

In St. Peter’s Square on April 19, 2005, many people immediately recognized the new pope as the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Catholic Church’s chief spokesperson regarding matters of orthodoxy). Both those who eagerly longed for a doctrinal crackdown and others who feared exactly that were surprised when they discovered that the nickname Panzerkardinal (“God’s rottweiler”) hardly described this brilliant professor, former archbishop of Munich, and one of Pope John Paul II’s closest collaborators.

He also was called the “German shepherd,” but he proved to be much more gracious than many Catholics expected. Who was this softspoken pope whom many Catholics and others presumed to know well but who was clearly following a new script for the papacy?

When Benedict XVI came to St. John Lateran, Rome’s cathedral, the next month he affirmed, “The one who holds the office of the Petrine ministry must be aware that he is a frail and weak human being—just as his own powers are frail and weak—and is constantly in need of purification and conversion.”

Before his first public blessing in St. Peter’s Square as pope, Benedict XVI said, “The fact that the Lord knows how to work and to act even with inadequate instruments comforts me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers.”

Although Adolf Hitler came to power and immediately created political turmoil in 1933 (when Joseph Jr. was 6 years old), the Ratzinger household represented a very different environment. His father was a policeman; his mother, Maria, had cooked in several hotels. His sister and brother, Maria and Georg, were older. The family moved several times within Bavaria before Joseph Sr.’s retirement in 1937. Not a Nazi supporter, he kept a very low profile.

The future Pope Benedict was drafted in 1944 into a labor battalion and later into the Nazi army. He deserted in 1945 and for six weeks was a prisoner of war in a US camp. He resumed his seminary studies and was ordained with his brother in 1951.

Before his election as pope, few people would have described Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as a very attentive listener. Several cardinals, however, later publicly praised Ratzinger’s leadership in their pre-conclave meetings. He had invited less-talkative cardinals to describe the Catholic Church’s situation in their area.

Long recognized as a very gracious man, he speaks English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese—plus his native German.

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