Saturday, January 28, 2023

My latest column: “New Book By Ganswein On BXVI“

 Part II

January 26, 2023


Upon his death we shared the witness that Pope Benedict lived out the words he uttered. Archbishop Georg Ganswein’s book Nothing But the Truth recounting his life with the great Pope is now out in bookstores. Here I share some vignettes of that volume from an advance unofficial English translation.

In October 1978 the future Benedict XVI shared the following words at a Munich requiem for John Paul I, sentiments which, the world would soon witness, he himself lived.

“The only greatness in the Church is to be saints. And her saints are the pillars of light that show us the way. Henceforth he too will be a part of these lights. And from what was granted to us for only thirty-three days emanates a light that can no longer be taken away from us.”
To George Weigel, biographer of JPII, he confided this concerning the conclave resulting in the election of JPI:

“We were convinced that the election had taken place in harmony with the divine will, not simply with the human will….And if, a month after Albino Luciani were elected with the divine will, he had died, God intended to communicate something to us.”

Later from Ratzinger we gained this insight:

“Luciani’s election was not a mistake. Those thirty-three days of pontificate had a function in the history of the Church. That sudden death also opened the door to an unexpected choice. That of a non-Italian Pope. In the previous Conclave this was also discussed. But it was not a very real hypothesis, also because there was the beautiful figure of Albino Luciani. Later it was thought that something absolutely new was needed.”

Though all too brief, the reign of JPI served to set the stage for the first non-Italian Pope in many years.

Though both were involved through preparation or participation in the deliberations of Vatican II they did not meet in that context. The future JPII had encountered the future BXVI, as have so many others, through his writing and, what’s more, had valued his wisdom so greatly that he, as Ratzinger recollected, drew from the latter’s work while preaching a retreat for a previous Pope.

“Of course, I had heard of his work as a philosopher and pastor, and I had long wanted to know him. For his part, he had read my Introduction to Christianity, which he had also quoted at the spiritual exercises he preached for Paul VI and the Curia in Lent 1976. So it is as if inwardly we were waiting to meet.”

The newly elected JPII almost immediately called on Ratzinger to assist him in the administration of the Church at Rome but the archbishop of Munich-Freising begged off, claiming a need for more time as a yet fairly new father to his flock in Germany. JPII demurred, choosing Cardinal Baum of Washington for the role of prefect for the Congregation for Catholic Education while making clear his intention to renew his request at the next opportunity.

Later Ratzinger would agree to come to Rome and work for JPII if he could continue to write and publish theology under his own name. JPII concurred and the two were to become close collaborators for many years.

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