VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Tuesday made a rare appearance together, at a ceremony to commemorate the 65th anniversary of Benedict’s ordination to the priesthood.
The event was held in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican Apostolic Palace, on the Vigil of Benedict’s actual anniversary, the June 29th Solemnity of the Apostles, Sts Peter and Paul.
During the ceremony, German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and curator of the Opera omnia of Joseph Ratzinger, presented Benedict XVI with a book entitled Teaching and Learning the Love of God, a collection of Joseph Ratzinger’s homilies on the priesthood.
The new book, part of a publishing project consisting of seven volumes on the core themes of Joseph Ratzinger’s thought, is being published in English in the United States by Ignatius Press. On receiving the book, Benedict XVI entrusted one copy to Pope Francis as a gift.
Pope Francis praised and thanked the pope emeritus for spending his priestly life for the Lord with a gaze and heart always turned to God, and for continuing to contribute to the growth of the Church through his prayer and wisdom.
Here below we offer our readers an English translation of Pope Francis’ thoughts and best wishes to Benedict XVI, on the occasion of his 65th anniversary of priestly ordination.
Today we celebrate the story of a call which began 65 years ago with your priestly ordination in the Cathedral of Friezing, on June 29, 1951. But what is the base note which runs through this long history and that, from the very beginning until today, increasingly dominates it?
In one of the many beautiful pages which you have dedicated to the priesthood, you highlight how, in the hour of Simon’s definitive call, Jesus, looking at him, in the end asks only one thing: “Do you love me?” How beautiful and true this is! For it it here, you tell us, in that “you do love me” that the Lord establishes his tending; since only if there is love for the Lord can He feed his sheep through us: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (Jn 21: 15-19).
This is the note that dominates an entire life spent in the priestly service and theology, which not by chance you have defined as “the search for the beloved.” It is this to which you have always borne witness, and still bear witness today: that the decisive thing in our days — come rain or shine — that one thing with which all the rest follows, is that the Lord is truly present, that we desire him, that interiorly we are close to him, that we love him, that truly we believe deeply in him, and believing truly love him.
It is this loving which truly fills our heart; this believing is what enables to walk on water in confidence and peace, even in the midst of a storm, just as happened to Peter. This love and this belief is what enables us to look to the future, not with fear or nostalgia, but with joy, even now in the later years of our lives.
And so, precisely by living and witnessing today, in such an intense and luminous way, to this one truly decisive thing — to have one’s eyes and heart turned to God — you, Your Holiness, continue to serve the Church. You do not cease to contribute authentically with determination and wisdom to its growth; and you do so from that little Monastery Mater Ecclesiae in the Vatican that, in this way, shows itself to be anything but one of those little forgotten corners in which today’s throw-away culture tends to relegate people when, with age, their forces being to wane.
It is quite the opposite. And permit your successor, who has chosen the name Francis, to say so! For the spiritual journey of St. Francis began at San Damiano, but the real place he loved, the beating heart of the Order, where he founded it and where he finally gave up his life to God, was the Porziuncola, the “small portion,” the little corner near his Mother, the Church; near Mary who, through her strong faith and by living so completely from the love and in love with the Lord, all generations shall call her blessed.
Thus Providence has willed that you, dear Brother, have come to a place, so to speak, truly “Franciscan,” whence emanates a calm, a peace, a strength, a trust, a maturity, a faith, a dedication and fidelity that do me such good, and strengthen me and the entire Church, and also allow me to say you do so with a healthy and joyous sense of humor.
The greetings with which I want to conclude are therefore wishes I address to you, together with all of us and the whole Church: that you, Your Holiness, may continue to feel the hand of the merciful God who sustains you; that you may experience and witness to us God’s love; that, with Peter and Paul, you may continue to exult with great joy as you journey toward the goal of faith (cf. 1 Peter; 2 Tim: 4)!
Translation by Diane Montagna of Aleteia’s English edition.