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Benedict XVI shares his longing for Heaven in letter on death of ‘closest’ friend



Pope Benedict XVI prepares for a Mass to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman in Cofton Park, in Birmingham, central England, on September 19, 2010. AFP PHOTO/FILIPPO MONTEFORTE

Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 10/20/21

Many friends are already there, says Pope Emeritus, and I hope I can join them soon.

On hearing of the September 22 death of his “closest” friend, Father Gerhard Winkler, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sent a touching letter of condolence.

The October 2 letter addressed to the abbot of the Austrian Cistercian community of Wilhering speaks of the Pope Emeritus’ longing for Heaven.

“Now he has arrived on the other side, where surely many friends already await him. I hope that I can join their company soon,” Benedict confides.

In his letter, shared on the site of the monastic community, Benedict XVI says that he was “deeply affected” by the death of Father Winkler, a person who marked him by his “cheerfulness and deep faith.”

The Pontiff Emeritus assured that he is united in prayer to the Cistercian community of Wilhering.

A scholar and priest

Gerhard Bernhard Winkler was born in Wilhering in 1931 and twenty years later joined the monastic community of his diocese. Ordained in 1955, exactly four years to the day after the Ratzinger brothers, he became a teacher, like Joseph Ratzinger, and became a friend of the future pope.

A specialist in medieval and modern Church history at the University of Regensburg (Germany) and then the University of Salzburg (Austria), his work on the history of his order, the Cistercians, and of its founder, Saint Bernard of Clairveaux, were particularly recognized.

The Pope Emeritus is now 94 years old. Since his renunciation in 2013, he has lived in retirement in the Mater Ecclesiæ monastery, in the midst of the Vatican gardens.

How Benedict imagines Heaven

In the Last Testament, the book-interview with Benedict XVI, he reflected on Heaven:

Q: The believer trusts that ‘eternal life’ is a life fulfilled.

Benedict: Definitely! Then he is truly at home.

Q: What are you expecting?

Benedict: There are various dimensions. Some are more theological. St. Augustine says something which is a great thought and a great comfort here. He interprets the passage from the Psalms ‘seek his face always’ as saying: this applies ‘for ever’; to all eternity. God is so great that we never finish our searching. He is always new. With God there is perpetual, unending encounter, with new discoveries and new joy. Such things are theological matters. At the same time, in an entirely human perspective, I look forward to being reunited with my parents, my siblings, my friends, and I imagine it will be as lovely as it was at our family home.

Full translation of Benedict’s condolence letter on the death of Fr. Winkler:

Reverend Father Abbot,

The news that you shared with me about the passing of Professor Gerhard Winkler, O.Cist., has deeply affected me. Among all my colleagues and friends, he was the closest. His cheerfulness and his deep faith have always drawn me. Now he has arrived on the other side, where surely many friends already await him. I hope that I can join their company soon. In the meantime, I am united in prayer with him and the monastic community of Wilhering .

Heartfelt greetings and blessings,

Yours in the Lord,

Pope Benedict XVI
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