As Joseph Ratzinger’s collaborator since 1996 and his personal secretary from 2003 to 2022, Archbishop Georg Gänswein was one of those closest to the Pope Emeritus in his last days. In an interview with Vatican News on January 4, 2023, he recounted how the last week of Pope Benedict XVI progressed.
Benedict XVI’s personal secretary explained that he had gone to Germany on December 26 to visit his family. The next morning, one of the consecrated laywomen at Mater Ecclesiae called him to tell him that Benedict XVI had had a very bad night and that Dr. Patrizio Polisca, an Italian cardiologist caring for the Pontiff Emeritus, had come.
On December 27, Archbishop Gänswein decided to fly back to Rome. He arrived at Mater Ecclesiae Monastery at 1 a.m. on December 28. “I immediately went to his bed and I was afraid because he was breathing very heavily,” he said.
In the morning, he called Pope Francis to warn him. This was the day the Pope alerted the world at the Wednesday audience that Benedict was very ill. Francis then went right after the audience and blessed his predecessor. The rest of the day was “difficult,” Archbishop Gänswein said, but the next morning, “against all odds,” the health of the Pontiff Emeritus improved, without the doctor being able to explain it.
However, the situation went on to worsen, and Archbishop Gänswein decided to give Benedict XVI the Anointing of the Sick. Then a Mass was said in his room while he was in bed. Benedict XVI took Communion, receiving only the blood of Christ with a liturgical spoon because he had not eaten “for two days.”
The German Pope’s last night from December 30 to 31 “went pretty well,” he explained. It was during this night that the Pontiff Emeritus said “Lord, I love you” in Italian to a caregiver, between 2:50 and 3:10.
Then morning came and “within three hours” he was failing, says Archbishop Gänswein. “Thank God, the agony didn’t last that long, about a good three quarters of an hour,” before he passed to eternity at 9:34 a.m..
In the interview, the German archbishop also spoke about his personal relationship with Benedict XVI, saying that he has experienced a real “Via Crucis” at his side during the last few days. But he says that he remembers above all his “joy” and is happy that the “profound treasures” that Benedict XVI leaves as a legacy can be discovered by others.
The English-language Vatican News presents more details of the last days and reflections from the archbishop, here. One thing he says: “I know Pope Benedict is now where he wanted to go.”