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After praying the midday Angelus, Pope Francis remembered his predecessor, who died one year ago today.
A year ago, Pope Benedict XVI ended his earthly journey, after having lovingly and wisely served the Church. We feel so much affection, gratitude, and admiration for him. He blesses and accompanies us from Heaven. A round of applause for Benedict XVI!
Earlier in the day, Benedict’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein celebrated a Mass in St. Peter’s, at the altar of the Chair.
“Benedict XVI’s prayer, especially in the last years of his life, was characterized by an increasing intensity,” said the German pope’s former secretary in a homily lasting almost a quarter of an hour.
Archbishop Gänswein spoke of Benedict XVI’s affection for Christmas, which he had described as “the most beautiful day of the year” on December 25, 2022, a week before his death.
On this feast of the Holy Family, which commemorates “the first anniversary of his return to the Father’s House,” Archbishop Gänswein drew on Benedict XVI’s prayer life to help us understand “the mystery of the Church, which is the great family of God.”
Returning to the day’s Gospel from St. Luke, Archbishop Gänswein emphasized that “the contemplative heart of the Mother of God is a model for every believer who observes and confronts the words and actions of Jesus.”
This confrontation always leads to “progress in the knowledge of Jesus, an entry into friendship with Him, which thus becomes contagious,” and fosters the development of a “missionary Church.”
“In the years following his resignation from the Petrine ministry, Benedict XVI dedicated himself above all to this dimension of the life of faith,” prayer and meditation, emphasized the German archbishop.
Archbishop Gänswein, his voice tight with emotion, quoted Benedict XVI’s words at the last Angelus prayer as reigning pope on February 24, 2013:
The Lord is calling me “to scale the mountain,” to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church; indeed, if God asks me this it is precisely so that I may continue to serve her with the same dedication and the same love with which I have tried to do so until now, but in a way more suited to my age and strength.
During his nearly 10 years as Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI was able to develop a “singular intimacy” with God, in a silent way, in the image of St. Joseph, from whom the Gospels retain no public words. The Pope Emeritus, who lived an intense daily prayer life, marked by “his love for Jesus and Mary,” experienced the Eucharist as a “source of light and a source of consolation,” confided his secretary.
“Cordiality, simplicity, and humility” punctuated his relations with visitors and those around him, recalled Archbishop Gänswein, noting his dynamic of “double communion with God and with others.”
“Despite all the human frailties that are part of its historical physiognomy,” the Church is called to offer “a marvelous creation of love, made to bring Christ close to every man and woman,” he stressed.
It is in the Eucharist that the Church builds itself up as “God’s family,” also remembering the dead, he also recalled.
“Gathered around the memory of Benedict XVI, we are sincerely grateful for the gift of his life,” noted Archbishop Gänswein, underlining “the depth of his theology.”
The 67-year-old German archbishop concluded his homily with tears, paying tribute to this “simple and humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard.”
Archbishop Gänswein’s emotion
The archbishop’s homily, delivered in Italian, was interspersed with sobs that moved the audience. Among the several hundred faithful present were many of the German Pontiff’s former collaborators, such as photographer Francesco Sforza, his butler Sandro Mariotti – both still working for Pope Francis – and former papal travel organizer Alberto Gasbarri.
Also present were the Memores Domini, the consecrated laywomen who accompanied Benedict XVI in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery, whose keys have now been handed over to contemplative nuns from Argentina.
Some 50 priests and bishops concelebrated the Mass, including Father Federico Lombardi, President of the Ratzinger Foundation, Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Christian Unity, and German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect Emeritus of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.
At the end of the celebration, the concelebrants and Benedict XVI’s inner circle moved to the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica for a time of prayer before the tomb of the German pope.