Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI passed away on New Year’s Eve at the age of 95. We, the Parishioners of St Thomas, held a 7th-day memorial prayer and Mass for him on Friday, 6 January 2023 at 7.30 pm, followed by Vespers (Evening Prayer), Holy Hour and Adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
We have never heard of a Pope resigning or retiring. It was a shock to us all when Pope Benedict XVI resigned as head of the Universal Church in 2013. He was the first ever Pope to resign during his reign, 600 years since Pope Gregory XII’s resignation in 1415. He was known as a “very gentle” and “humble” man, but Pope Benedict was also a controversial man. His papacy faced several challenges, including the scandal of sexual abuses by the cleric. Pope Benedict reiterated his predecessors stand on matters of priestly celibacy, ecclesiastical organisation, liturgy and its solemnity.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s funeral which was presided over by Pope Francis, took place on Thursday, 5 January 2023 at St Peter’s Square, Vatican City. For the first time, we had seen a living Pope (Pope Francis) preside over another Pope’s funeral. When Pope John Paul II passed away, the Dean of the College of Cardinals – Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger presided over the funeral.
It is a tradition for the reigning Pope to write his first “encyclical” letter the moment he becomes a Pope - to be circulated to the Universal Church and the World. After his election in 2005, Pope Benedict’s first encyclical was on “Deus Caritas Est” (God’s Love for Humanity) on 25 December 2005 and followed by two other encyclicals - “Spe Salvi” (Saved in Hope, 2007) and “Caritas in Veritate” (Love in Truth, 2009).
As a Priest, I have served three Popes - Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis. I didn’t have a chance to meet them face to face, but I saw them in the Wednesday audience, at St Peter’s Square during my pilgrimages. In my early years of priesthood, I enjoyed reading Pope Benedict’s encyclicals, exhortations and homilies, and I admired all his works and his style of writing. His works have profound knowledge and insights. He was very intelligent and a great theologian. Now with Pope Francis, I find myself loving his writings and messages more, because they are down-to-earth, especially his concern for the underprivileged, the poor and migrants.
Each Pope writes a “Spiritual Testament” which will only be made known to the public after his death. Pope Emeritus wrote his spiritual testament on 29 August 2006. He thanked God, his parents, friends and collaborators who had journeyed through his life. The most important point he highlighted was “the centrality of faith in God”, and inviting us to “stand firm in the faith!”
We thank God for the gift of Pope Emeritus. During his short period of ruling the Catholic Church, he “offered us living intellectual tools” for today’s world. Pope Francis has written a preface for a book on the Spiritual Reflection of Pope Emeritus entitled “God is Always New” edited by Luca Caruso which will be published on 14 January 2023. Pope Francis expressed that the theology of Benedict was Passion Steeped in the Gospel, Magisterium (Church) and Vision of Faith – “God is always New, God is never repetitive, God surprises us, and God brings newness.”
Danke Papst Benedikt! (Thank you Pope Benedict) and Santo Subito! (A Saint Right Away)