Pope Benedict XVI turns 85 on Monday and will be celebrating with a number of visitors, including his elder brother, and the president of his native Bavaria.
The Pope, now the sixth oldest Pontiff in history, has spent the last five days resting after a gruelling fortnight that included a six-day visit to Mexico and Cuba, and leading the Church’s Easter celebrations in Rome.
|Pope Benedict XVI delivers his 'Urbi et Orbi' message and blessing on Easter Sunday.
In recent weeks, he has shown increasing frailty and exhaustion and has cut some official duties, including papal travel, but he nevertheless remains in relatively good health and appears to have no serious medical ailments apart from arthrosis and pain in his right hip.
His 88-year-old brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, told a German news agency this week that his wish for his younger sibling on his birthday was that he “still finds enough strength to fulfil his service for the blessing of the Church," and that he “continues to stay in good health.”
Earlier this week, the Pope received many tributes to coincide with his birthday, mostly in the form of a book of plaudits from a group of prominent German figures, but also accolades from one of his best known biographers.
Twenty leading Germans from the fields of politics, culture, the economy and sport have shared their opinions on the Pontiff in a new book called "Benedikt XVI — Prominente über den Papst" (prominent figures on the Pope). Contributors include the former Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, former German soccer star Franz Beckenbauer, and alpine skier Maria Höfl-Riesch. The book was presented to the Pope on Monday.
Beckenbauer, who is known for his frankness, says he treasures a photo of him taken with Pope Benedict which he brings with him whenever he travels. “It lies in my suitcase, at the top,” he says. “The inner peace, dignity and kindness that this man transmits has impressed me greatly,” he writes, adding that his encounter with Pope Benedict changed him personally. “I’m going back to church more often,” he says, and that every day he prays the “Our Father” because from it he draws “strength and fortitude.”
Cardinal Joachim Meissner, Archbishop of Cologne, describes the Pope, a renowned theologian, as the “Mozart of theology” while Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the Archbishop of Munich, praises the Pope for his “fine sense of humor, intellectual strength and joy in the faith.” The opinions of prominent Evangelical Christians are also included.
Not all the book’s contributors are in complete agreement with the Pope, however. Höfl-Riesch, also from Bavaria, says she feels his office is “too great for him to always do the right thing.” But she says she is not impressed by his critics. “I don’t have to agree with everything he may do as Pope, but I still appreciate and feel respect for him as a person,” she says.
Writing in the book’s foreword, Msgr. Georg Gaenswein, the Pope’s private secretary, stresses that every contributor had “complete freedom to express their feelings” and there was “no trace of censorship.” A common wish of each author was a “sincere desire to do justice to Pope Benedict, but not to write with blinders on,” he says, adding further guidance to reflect an “attitude of sympathy, without which there is no understanding” — words the Pope himself used in the first volume of his book, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
Further tributes also came this week from German journalist Peter Seewald, one of the Pope’s most prominent and trusted biographers.
In an April 10 interview in the German daily Passauer Neue Presse, he said Pope Benedict is a man “ahead of his time” who is presenting a viable future for the world. Seewald also explained that the Pontiff is trying to steer the Church along what has been called the “Catholic center,” a balanced course that leans neither to the extremisms of the left or the right.
“With Ratzinger, everything is about the center, but not in the sense of being average,” he continued. “It’s a positive middle line which, on closer inspection, is not the easiest of exercises but the hardest,” he said. “Everyone can fall into either extremes, lurching to the left or to the right, but to take a straight path along a balanced center, that is the school of a master.”
Asked what he would emphasize if he were to write a new biography of Joseph Ratzinger, Seewald said: “His simplicity and his humility, which are in such stark contrast to the complexities of the world, and the pride of a society which sees itself as the measure of all things.”
Regarding the Church reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which began 50 years ago this year, Seewald said that without the Council “perhaps there would be no Pope Benedict, but also without him the Council would not have taken the form it did.” Seewald believes Benedict “is already one of the greats in papal history because he is dedicated to the inner renewal of the Church.”
A former editor of the German magazine Der Spiegel, Seewald is best known for “Light of the World,” an unprecedented series of long interviews with a Pontiff published in 2010. He also interviewed the Pope when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, publishing the conversations in two bestselling books.
Asked what he would wish the Pope on his birthday, Seewald said for anyone else of his age, one would normally wish that he have a leisurely retirement. But as that is not possible, he said he hopes he receives “as much help as possible to carry out his office.”
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek, and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
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