Main menu


Meeting the man who became Pope Benedict XVI

featured image

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the keynote speaker at a Vatican conference on the traditional Latin Mass in October 1998, seven years before he became Pope Benedict XVI – whose funeral Pope Francis will lead in St Peter’s Square on Thursday .

Two media and congressional staff friends and I, in our 20s, saved money and vacation time to fly to Rome for the event, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the then-limited permits that Pope John Paul II had given to offer. the old Latin mass if the local bishop allows.

We arrived about an hour after Ratzinger’s speech, having been introduced to how incredibly strange it was to travel to Europe before the age of electronic tools. We were left devastated by our poor planning, missing the man we came to see. Then we embarked on a walk through the streets of Rome, taking it all in.

As we walked aimlessly, not knowing which way we were going, we passed a cleric who looked very much like the man of the time. “No way,” said my friends when I asked if it was him. Why would Cardinal Ratzinger be alone on this street?

I wasn’t going to give up and ran back to the white haired man dressed as a priest, simply saying his name out loud with a question mark. “Yes?” He couldn’t have been nicer. My friends and I explained that we had come to Rome from the US to attend the Latin Mass celebrations and had missed his lecture.

People pray as the body of Pope Benedict XVI is laid in state in Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican on January 3, 2023.
People pray as the body of Pope Benedict XVI is laid in state in Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on January 3, 2023.
Photo AP/Antonio Calanni

He was incredibly gentle, the opposite of Ratzinger’s caricatures as a Rottweiler. In perfect English he chatted with us, interested in the fact that three young men had come to Rome for a Latin Mass conference.

At the end of our conversation, he asked if we would like his blessing—easy to answer. We knelt on the sidewalk and absorbed a beautiful prayer in Latin for our health and spiritual well-being. So we said goodbye, still in awe of what just happened.

We had no camera or pen between us, which I regret. The memory of meeting the future Pope Benedict has not been captured anywhere except in our minds – unthinkable today. But it was a special moment for us, attached to the traditional Latin Mass and the sacraments.

Fast forward to Benedict becoming pope in 2005 and issuing a document in 2007 that liberalized the use of the traditional Latin Mass and sacraments as they existed before the Second Vatican Council. It changed the liturgical universe, with young priests and lay people enthusiastically embracing the form of the Mass known to Catholics from the time of Pope St. Gregory the Great until 1969. It was not necessary to cajole the disdainful bishops; tradition has become the standard.

This was the Benedict generation, ironically – young Catholics finding new spiritual nourishment from the older worship books.

Unfortunately, the current pope is not a fan of traditional Catholicism or those who prefer tradition. In recent months, severe restrictions have been enacted as a result of a decree by Pope Francis to eradicate the Latin Mass permissions established by Pope Benedict XVI.

This week, Pope Benedict XVI’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, told the editor-in-chief of the Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost, Guido Horst, that Francis’ decision to reverse his predecessor’s permits “broke the Pope’s heart. Benedict XVI to read”. Benedict’s intention, he said, “was to help those who simply found a home in the Old Mass to find inner peace, to find liturgical peace.”

According to his longtime secretary, Pope Francis' decision to reverse Benedict's permissions on the Latin Mass
According to his longtime secretary, Pope Francis’ decision to roll back Benedict’s permissions for the Latin Mass “broke his heart”.
Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Time will tell if the death of Pope Benedict XVI on December 31 will open the floodgates for Pope Francis to overthrow a number of other traditional customs, beliefs and tenets of the faith or if he finally realizes that Catholics who actually go to Mass are not big fans of the Church. Francis-style revolution. .

Then again, all of this might be moot with an 86-year-old pope in a wheelchair. The only sure bet for the future is: For you are dust and to dust you will return.

Kenneth J. Wolfe is a contributor to the traditional Catholic blog Rorate Caeli.