Pope Francis today hosted a celebration for the 65th anniversary of the priestly ordination of his predecessor Benedict, the pope emeritus. Joseph Ratzinger, who took the name Benedict XVI when he was elected to the papacy in 2005, attended the celebration in the Sala Clementina within the Apostolic Palace. More than thirty cardinals were also present, as well as a number of other invited guests.
The event began with music from the Sistine Choir and a speech by Pope Francis. In his remarks, the Supreme Pontiff recalled St Peter’s response to Jesus’ question, “Do you love me?” “Lord, you know that I love you,” answered the first Pope. And this, the current Pope said, “is the note that has dominated a life spent entirely in the service of the priesthood and of the true theology”.
Pope Francis said that Benedict continues to serve the Church, “not ceasing to truly contribute to her growth with strength and wisdom.” “And you do this,” he said, “from that little Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican, that is shown in that way to be anything but that forgotten little corner to which today’s culture of waste tends to relegate people when, with age, their strength diminishes.” He spoke, too, about the “Franciscan” dimension of the monastery, which recalls the Portiuncula, the “little portion” where St Francis founded his order, and laid down his life. Divine Providence, he said, “has willed that you, dear Brother, should reach a place one could truly call ‘Franciscan’, from which emanates a tranquillity, a peace, a strength, a confidence, a maturity, a faith, a dedication, and a fidelity that does so much good for me, and gives strength to me and to the whole Church.”
At the conclusion of his remarks, Pope Francis offered best wishes to Pope emeritus Benedict on behalf of himself and of the whole Church, with the prayer for Benedict, “That you, Holiness, might continue to feel the hand of the merciful God who supports you; that you might continue to experience and witness to us the love of God; that, with Peter and Paul, you might continue to rejoice with great joy as you journey toward the goal of the faith.”
Later, after more music and speeches by Cardinals Gerhard Müller and Angelo Sodano – respectively Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Dean of the College of Cardinals – Benedict offered words of thanks to all his well-wishers, and in a particular way to Pope Francis. Speaking to the Holy Father, Benedict said, “Your kindness, from the first moment of the election, in every moment of my life here, strikes me, is a source of real inspiration for me. More than in the Vatican Gardens, with their beauty, your goodness is the place where I dwell: I feel protected.”
The Pope emeritus also reflected on the concept of “thanksgiving,” reflecting on a word written, in Greek, on a remembrance card from his first Mass. That word, he said, suggests “not only human thanksgiving, but naturally hints at the more profound word that is hidden, which appears in the liturgy, in the Scriptures,” and in the words of consecration. The Greek word “eucharistomen,” he said, “brings us back to that reality of thanksgiving, to that new dimension that Christ has given it. He has transformed into thanksgiving, and so into blessing, the Cross, suffering, all the evil of the world. And thus He has fundamentally transubstantiated life and the world, and has given us, and gives us today the Bread of true life, which overcomes the world thanks to the strength of his love.”