“A simple humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.” Those were the modest words Pope Benedict XVI used to describe himself in his first public speech following his election to the papacy seven years ago this week.
Those much-quoted remarks helped in some ways to set the tone for Pope Benedict’s reign. So what exactly do they reveal about the man who became the 256th Pontiff on 19 April 2005?
One person who knows Pope Benedict well is Father Joseph Fessio, a former theology student of Josef Ratzinger when he taught at the University of Regensburg in Germany.
Asked about the personality of the Pope, Father Fessio says “he was a wonderful teacher, very kind, very intelligent… with an ironic sense of humour… we all loved him.” Father Fessio also has high words of praise for the Pope’s skills as a theologian: He’s not simply “one of history’s great theologians, he’s really a creative and original theologian”… somebody who “always finds a new insight, a new idea that will inspire you.” When it comes to the main priorities of the Pope, Father Fessio says that the theme of new evangelisation, especially for Europe, “is a key motive of his papacy and that’s why he took the name Benedict.”
With many families celebrating First Holy Communion in the coming weeks, a new book has been published. It is called Friendship With Jesus: Pope Benedict XVI Speaks to Children on their First Holy Communion. Compiled by Ann Engelhart, this child-friendly book which combines the words of the Pope spoken to First Holy Communion children during his first year as Pope with wonderful watercolour paintings by Engelhart. “It was a very important conversation directed to children, but on their level. As always, Pope Benedict really talk down to children, he speaks to them” the editor explains.
Meanwhile, John Allen says that Pope Benedict has confounded expectations of what he would be like at the time of his election. One of the world’s best known commentators on Vatican and Church affairs, Allen says that “the popular stereotype painted Josef Ratzinger as a strong, stern, authoritarian figure. Instead he revealed himself to be a gentle, mild figure.” According to the commentator, Benedict “sees himself as a teaching Pope” and when asked about the highlights of his papacy, points to many of his foreign trips such as those to the US and the UK which turned out to be “pastoral and communication triumphs” and his three encyclicals which he predicts will “still be read by thinking Catholics” in centuries to come.”