Pope Benedict remembered as humble and devoted traditionalist

January 2023 Online


Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who died Dec. 31 at the age of 95, is being remembered within the Roman Catholic Church and its health care ministry and among world leaders as a humble intellectual devoted to tradition.

Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowd at a weekly general audience in Saint Peter's Square on March 14, 2012.
Credit: Eric Vandeville/Abaca/Sipa USA/via AP Images

The former German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger led the church from April 2005 until resigning in February 2013. Announcing his decision to step down as pontiff, and citing his advanced age, he said that his strength "of mind and body has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."

After becoming the first pope in 600 years to resign, he resided at a monastery on the Vatican grounds. The emeritus pope's final words, according to an aide, were: "Lord, I love you."

Pope Francis paid tribute to Pope Benedict at a New Year's Eve prayer service, referring to him as "such a noble, such a gentle person."

"Only God knows the value and strength of his intercession and his sacrifices offered for the good of the church," Pope Francis said.

Pope Benedict was a close collaborator and the theological expert behind many of the major teachings of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, Catholic News Service reported. Before he became pontiff, he led the work of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for 24 years. In that role, he was in charge of safeguarding Catholic teaching on faith and morals, correcting the work of some Catholic theologians and ensuring the theological solidity of the documents issued by other Vatican offices.

When he became pope at age 78, he was the oldest man to ascend to the highest rank of the church since 1730. During his papacy, Pope Benedict worked to rekindle faith in God. Speaking during World Youth Day in his first year as pontiff, he said: "In vast areas of the world today, there is a strange forgetfulness of God. It seems everything would be just the same even without him."

His final testament, released after his death by the Vatican, urged the faithful to stand firm. "I have seen, and see, how, out of the tangle of hypotheses, the reasonableness of faith has emerged and is emerging anew," he said. "Jesus Christ is truly the Way, the Truth, and the Life — and the church, in all her shortcomings, is truly His Body."

Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, meets with Pope Benedict during a visit by the pontiff to the United States in April 2008. Sr. Carol at the time was president and chief executive officer of CHA and, at the invitation of the Vatican, she led the pope’s medical team for the visit.

Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM, president and chief executive officer of CHA, said of Pope Benedict: "After a long and rich life of service to the church marked by a sharp, theological intellect, I believe his lasting gift to us will be as one who humbly embraced his humanity."

In a 2009 article for CHA's journal Health Progress, Clarke E. Cochran, then vice president for mission integration at Covenant Health System in Lubbock, Texas, discussed how Pope Benedict's third encyclical, "Caritas in Veritate," which translates to "Charity in Truth," applied to Catholic health care without specifically addressing it.

The encyclical, Cochran said, "expresses teachings that support the organization and mission of Catholic health care in the United States. Yet, it contains both overt and subtle challenges to the practices of Catholic health care in our time." Those challenges included providing mind, body and spiritual care for patients as well as fair working conditions and wages for staff.

Sr. Patricia Talone, RSM, who retired in 2016 as vice president of mission services at CHA, said that while Pope Benedict's experience leaned more toward the academic than the pastoral, his writings and pronouncements, such as those he issued on the World Day of the Sick, showed a strong allegiance to the church's mission to care for the sick.

His missives and teachings, she said, brought a focus to the importance of providing compassionate and spiritual care and recognizing the vulnerability of people who are sick. "Benedict, while he was an academic, expressed gratitude and thanks to the people who were doing that work," Sr. Talone said.

The Religious Formation Conference, a national Roman Catholic organization serving women's and men's religious institutes, called Pope Benedict a committed scholar and prolific theologian who contributed significantly to the Catholic intellectual tradition.

In a statement issued by the White House, President Joe Biden said the retired pontiff "will be remembered as a renowned theologian, with a lifetime of devotion to the Church, guided by his principles and faith." He added: "May his focus on the ministry of charity continue to be an inspiration to us all."

In his tribute to the late pontiff, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said Pope Benedict was "principled in his faith, tireless in his pursuit of peace, and determined in his defense of human rights."

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