AD MULTOS ANNOS, BENEDICT XVI! – THE 11TH HOUR OF THE 11TH DAY….A LOOK BACK: POPE BENEDICT STUNS THE WORLD WITH HIS RESIGNATION

AD MULTOS ANNOS, BENEDICT XVI!

Today, February 11 is a twofold holiday here as Vatican City State celebrates the 89th anniversary of its institution as a sovereign state after signing a treaty with Italy on that date in 1929, and the Church also marks the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the World Day of the Sick.

And, while not a holiday, the Church also marks the fifth anniversary of Benedict XVI’s resignation as Supreme Pontiff!

Normally, the Roman Curia and Vatican City personnel have the day off, but that holiday this year falls on a Sunday, a normal day off.

It was a Monday five years ago when the Holy Father, in the course of a morning meeting that had been on his agenda for sometime, stunned the world with the announcement of his resignation! No matter where we were when we heard the news – in the Vatican, on vacation, at home or in the office somewhere on this great planet – we had a collective intake of breath and knew intuitively that we were living a moment in history.

That moment of history became a week, a month, and now five years of history as Benedict ended his eight-year reign as pontiff, cardinals gathered for the conclave and a Latin American, a Jesuit and the first-ever Pope to take the name Francis, ascended to the Chair of Peter.

It was a surprise five years ago, a shock actually, and it has been a surprise-a-day time since then.

How do I feel today?

I look back at February 11, 2013 with amazement, with gratitude for being here during an historical period, with awe at the events of the months that followed, and once again with gratitude for a Church that could so beautifully transition from one papacy to another.

I look back at the courage and humility and love of the Church that prompted Pope Benedict to resign as he feared, sensed, realized he could not serve the Church he loved as she deserved.

Benedict XVI had become a role model for so many people, for millions of Catholics – and others – who miss him terribly today and wish him well and pray for him on a daily basis. I know because, throughout these five years, and in a special way, in recent days, I receive so many letters to this effect!

I vividly remember telling FoxNews the very night of Benedict’s announcement that Pope John Paul II, in his long suffering, taught us how to die and Pope Benedict, in his humility, courage and love, was teaching us how to live!

What did I mean? Too often we live and make decisions based on what others might think of us. We want to “look good,” we need approval before we act. We rarely look inside ourselves to see – even pray – what is the right thing to do. That is what Benedict XVI did. He looked inside himself and, with great honesty, unbelievable courage and his noted humility, he knew he had to leave the papacy.

In my mind’s eye today I’ve relived every encounter I had with Pope Benedict over the years – the brief exchanges, his soft smile, his wonderful blue eyes, his total sincerity. My Mass intention today was for Benedict, out of love, respect and gratitude.

I end today’s “Joan’s Rome” with the very column I wrote one year ago – an amazing look back!

THE 11TH HOUR OF THE 11TH DAY….A LOOK BACK: POPE BENEDICT STUNS THE WORLD WITH HIS RESIGNATION

(February 11, 2013) – Where does one start to write about a day that is historical, stunning, amazing, sad – there are so many reactions and emotions. Having lived in Rome for over 30 years (this very month) and having worked for or covered the Vatican and the papacy for all but two of those years, all of the above emotions have been part of my day.

Over the years, from my first visit to Rome as a college student to this very day, I have met or been in the presence of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and have actually spoken to the last three.

The whole world knew that the death of a Pope was the only way the papacy was vacated, that there could be a “sede vacante,” literally, a vacant chair.

No one is alive on this earth today who ever heard a Pope say what Pope Benedict XVI did this morning: “…Well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”

The idea that by Easter we will have a new Pope AND the former Pope will be alive and living in a monastery in Vatican City is something I am still trying to wrap my mind around, as I am sure everyone is.

Today’s stunning announcement caught everyone by surprise – a lightning bolt out of the blue! No one knew. It may have been the best-kept secret of the century! Everyone, from members of the College of Cardinals to members of the Roman Curia to the papal spokesman was caught off guard.

The last such well-kept secret of this Holy Father was his announcement of six new cardinals last October with the consistory a month later. And now those six cardinals will enter into conclave next month, including the two youngest in the College of Cardinals (of the 117 electors who will go into conclave) – Cardinals Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, the Philippines (born June 1957) and His Beatitude Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal of India (born June 1959).

We do not know today but will soon know the date of the start of the conclave. Pope John Paul, in his 1996 Apostolic Constitution “’Universi Dominici Gregis,’ On the Vacancy of the Apostolic See and the Election of the Roman Pontiff,” predicated most of the time frame for a conclave on the fact it would follow a pontiff’s death, and would include the preparation for a funeral and the novendiales (9 days of Masses of mourning). Assuredly there will be no such period this time: cardinals will gather in Rome, there will be some preparation and they will enter into conclave.

We are all in a new learning curve – the media, the Vatican, the College of Cardinals, the protocol and liturgical offices, etc. This is a new experience for everyone and decisions will be made, slowly but surely, in the usual manner of the Apostolic See.

Did Benedict – in his extraordinarily surprising announcement that left the very cardinals who heard the news so astonished they could not speak – do a favor for the cardinals? When a Pope dies, cardinals have to suddenly drop everything and rush to Rome to enter into conclave and start thinking about a successor. Will the cardinals, though astonished by the Pope’s move, now have more time to think about a successor?

What questions will the cardinal electors have? Surely, they will talk about age, a papabile’s health, his language skills, his teachings and writings and orthodoxy, his life as a man of prayer and deep spiritual values. He will have to be energetic and will be expected to travel widely, meet countless groups, write speeches and encyclicals and so many other documents. Oh yes, and tweet!!

A thousand things went through my head upon hearing the news. As a journalist covering the Vatican, responsible for getting the story out – the truth, not the spins or rumors – that challenge is greatly multiplied. I spent the day, either commenting on radio or TV or preparing for it and researching like mad.

I will be on “The World Over” at 2 a.m. Rome time with Raymond Arroyo and I was on FoxNews this morning and was interviewed for “Special Report” tonight.
When I first heard the news, my visceral reaction was the same shock I felt on May 13, 1981 when I was entered St. Peter’s Square just minutes after 5 pm. for the weekly general audience and I heard a person shout in Italian, “they’ve shot the Pope!” My mind was paralyzed, my feet were as nailed to the sidewalk. In such moments, the brain has an electrical short and cannot process such contradictory words. Today was like that.

I had intended to devote today’s column to a very happy, historic and uplifting event that took place this weekend in Rome and at the Vatican to which I had been invited – the 900th anniversary of the Order of Malta. I will bring you that story and those photos some day as it was an important occasion for the Knights and Dames of the Order, as well as for the thousands of volunteers, doctors, etc who are associated with the Order.

I did post a number of videos on YouTube – including several with the Holy Father – so do visit that page.

As I work through this momentous day I am constantly making notes and I’ll eventually bring you those thoughts and observations and analyses. Questions such as canon law on a Pope’s resignation, how would I address Pope Benedict were I to meet him on March 1st?

It struck me this morning that Pope Benedict made this announcement on a date that has three meanings for the Church. It is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes (and 155 years since the first apparition to Bernadette Soubirous), it is the 84th anniversary of the Lateran Treaty that created an independent Vatican City State and – most significantly for me – it is the World Day of the Sick.

Did Benedict XVI have this day in mind when he wrote: “I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.” No indication was given by the pontiff of a specific illness – just the fatigue of his years – but I was impressed that he chose this day to announce his resignation.

His act was one of courage and extraordinary humility.

All day I have pondered the thought that Blessed John Paul, in the very visible throes of an agonizing and prolonged illness, taught the world how to die. And now I think: Surely Pope Benedict, in the humility of his self-revelation, is teaching us how to live!

Two magnificent pontiffs – two beautiful lessons about life.

Lots more to come tomorrow so stay here for news, commentary and analysis.

Following is today’s edition of the Vatican Information Service, which includes the Pope’s words this morning:

(VIS) – The Holy Father, at the end of today’s consistory for causes for canonization, announced his resignation from ministry as Bishop of Rome to the College of Cardinals. Following is the Holy Father’s complete declaration, which he read in Latin:

“I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”

“Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.”

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