"The Holy Father’s renouncement is precisely a gesture of faith."
In an exclusive interview with Aleteia, Msgr. Octavio Ruíz Arenas, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, reflected on Pope Benedict’s impending abdication from the Chair of St. Peter, discussing both his understanding of the Holy Father’s decision, and what this act means for the Church at large.
What does the Holy Father’s abdication mean to you?
First and foremost, it was a huge surprise. We had hoped that he would continue for many years, guiding the Church with his simple yet profound evangelical message. He was a Pope who wanted nothing more than to focus on the essential, which was to find the most efficient way to evangelize our modern world. He has shown us what it means to fulfill God’s will and to exercise power as a service to others and the Church. His decision to abdicate, when he realized that his waning strength no longer permitted him to continue this service in the most efficient manner, revealed an incredible amount of humility, courage, and virtue.
This moment is of huge importance in the history of the Church…
Exactly. It is so important for all of us. … The message that the Holy Father transmits is that we should never attach ourselves to power, to our human desires, but rather to view our responsibilities as a mission. In this, the Holy Father has always been very coherent. He has loved the Church, and as he said, his decision is not an abandonment of his responsibilities but rather a way for him to continue serving the Church from a different angle – that of hidden suffering and prayer.
The Pontifical Council of which you are a member, Monsignor, was created by Pope Benedict XVI. How would you interpret this gesture in the face of the Synod of the New Evangelization and the Year of Faith?
The Holy Father’s renouncement is precisely a gesture of faith. The Pope has told us to delve into the content of our faith and rejoice in our encounter with the Lord during this Year of Faith. It is to be a time of celebration and a time to make sure we are living out the faith we profess. Here, the Holy Father offers us another lesson: faith is binding ourselves to the Word of God and the following of his will.
Many say that the Holy Father has chosen to leave the Chair of St. Peter due to the amount of problems the Church is facing…
We all know that the Holy Father has personally taken on a vast majority of the Church’s problems, but he knows that the Church now needs a person with more physical strength who can truly continue the work of spreading the Gospel and eradicating the secular mentality from which we are currently suffering.
In an age of pragmatic solutions to problems, is it surprising when we see a decision made in faith?
The Holy Father has always insisted on the need for a profound spirituality. I believe that in this example, we are getting a glimpse of a gesture made from the depth of a great spirituality. The papacy is not a mere question of strategic action; one must believe that it is the Holy Spirit who is at work in the Church and who is guiding it. The Holy Father is not a man who has said, “I just don’t have the strength,” but rather a man who says, “I am placing myself in God’s hands, as it is his work that I am trying to accomplish and it will be him who continues this work.” The Holy Father knows in his conscience that he has done all that he can do as Pontiff of the Universal Church.
Many reporters are saying that his resignation is a sign of failure; that the Church has lost many of its faithful and will soon be a minority among religions.
We must view this renouncement with faith. The Church will always face problems; throughout the twenty long centuries of her existence, she has always survived the problems she has faced. Benedict XVI has assumed the responsibility of facing many complex questions that other pontiffs never dreamt of facing. Nevertheless, he has also had the courage to say that the Church must change and be more transparent, and in doing so, put herself in the hands of God.
How would you sum up the nearly eight years of Benedict’s pontificate?
He has taught us that the Church is holy because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, but that she is full of sinners who have blurred this vision. The Holy Father has taught us a huge lesson: when we thought the Church had failed, the opposite was true. He is a man who knows how to bring our Lord into people’s midst; a man who is capable of preaching the truth and assimilating the principle catholic doctrines and morals that all Christians should follow.
How will history recognize him?
As one of the greatest pontiffs the Church has ever known.