FEBRUARY 11 IN NUMBERS – A PAPAL RESIGNATION, AN UNFOLDING STORY – THE DISMAY, SURPRISE, AMAZEMENT OF CARDINALS AT PAPAL ANNOUNCEMENT – POPE BENEDICT SAYS RUMORS HE WAS FORCED TO RESIGN ARE “ABSURD”

FEBRUARY 11 IN NUMBERS

February 11 commemorates some important moments for the Catholic Church:

Today is the 161st anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes to St. Bernadette.

It is the 90th anniversary of the establishment of Vatican City State via the 1929 Lateran Pacts. Today is a holiday in Vatican City State to mark that event.

It is the 27th World Day of the Sick, established in May 1992 by St. John Paul II, a year after he learned that he had Parkinson’s.

It is the 6th anniversary of the announcement by Pope Benedict XVI that he would resign the papacy effective at the end of the month.

The 11th hour of the 11th Day….

Today I focus on that last anniversary because of its unique nature and because of what it entailed for me – and hundreds of others – as a vaticanista. How to handle history as it is actually being made! Getting it right!.

Where does one start to write about a day that is historical, stunning, amazing and also sad – there were so many reactions and emotions. Having lived in Rome for decades and having worked for or covered the Vatican and the papacy for all but two of those years, all of the above emotions were part of that incredible February 11, 2013 when we heard Pope Benedict XVI tell the world he would resign the papacy effective February 28, 2013!

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, Benedict XVI and Francis and have actually spoken to the last four. I was at the 1978 Mass when John Paul I was installed as Pope but never did meet him during his very brief pontificate.

Up to February 11, 2013, 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 had ever heard a Pope say what Pope Benedict did on that fateful, historical morning exactly six years ago – Monday, February 11, 2013.

I remember every moment of that day and subsequent ones like it just happened yesterday – the resignation, the TV appearances, the press conferences, the preparations for a conclave, the mountains of research need to answer questions and to prepare for EWTN’s live television coverage of all events, the visits prepared for the media to Castelgandolfo where Benedict would be living until his permanent home was ready to receive him, and the monastery where Benedict now lives.

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. More frequently than you might imagine – still today, six years later – people write me to ask me to please extend to Pope emeritus Benedict their regards, their love, their prayers and their thanksgiving for his pontificate. I try to pass on what I can!

I vividly remember telling U.S. television the night of Benedict’s resignation 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!

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. I will go to Mass and say a rosary today for Benedict, out of love, respect and gratitude.

My favorite photo:

And now a look back at history….

A PAPAL RESIGNATION, AN UNFOLDING STORY

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fr. Federico Lombardi, papal spokesman and head of the Holy See Press Office and Vatican Radio gave a very interesting and informative press briefing today for the world’s media now converging in Rome following Benedict XVI’s stunning announcement that he will “renounce” the office of Pope, the Petrine ministry on February 28.

He said he had little to add to what he told reporters yesterday, and then proceeded to speak and answer questions for almost 90 minutes. He thanked the media for its coverage, saying that in general it was abundant, informative, timely, respectful and, in some instances, “reflective.” He reiterated what he said about the Pope’s decision to resign, namely, that he made the decision with lucidity and serenity and that it was “spiritually well-founded from a human and faith perspective.”

We did learn that the Holy Father has had a pacemaker since the 1990s – before his pontificate – and that as recently as several months ago he went privately to Pius XI clinic in Rome to have the batteries replaced – something he has done regularly over the years.

All the activities, meetings, speeches and liturgies that were on Pope Benedict’s calendar before his announcement for the month of February remain unchanged, including his retreat with members of the curia that starts next Sunday evening, February 17 and ends the following Saturday in late morning. The Pope will receive the presidents of Romania and Guatemala, will meet with the Roman clergy Thursday morning (live in Vatican television), and will continue to meet Italy’s bishops on their ad limina visits.

Two events will have venue changes to accommodate larger crowds.

Tomorrow’s Ask Wednesday Mass in Santa Sabina Basilica that usually follows a procession from St. Anselm’s to Santa Sabina will take place in St. Peter’s Basilica, starting at 5 pm and scheduled to last two hours.

Pope Benedict’s final weekly general audience will be held on February 27th in St. Peter’s Square to accommodate what is expected to be a very large crowd of faithful

One journalist asked why the Pope is resigning specifically at 8 pm on February 28th. Fr. Lombardi said the Pope always considered 8 pm the end of his working day.

The Pope’s promised encyclical on faith will not be ready by February 28. It is not known if it would be released at a future date and possible under Benedict XVI /Joseph Ratzinger.

Benedict XVI will move to a small monastery in Vatican City that is currently being renovated. He will spend in days in prayer and reflection and, many hope, further writing. Pope John Paul years earlier had given this building to an order of cloistered nuns, and he invited a new order to come every five years. The last group of nuns left in November 2012 and the renovation started on the monastery, which has a small chapel, after that.

The Pope knows the monastery well and had visited the cloistered nuns on a number of vocations.

Vatican television went this morning to shoot images for the media.

The Pope’s decision to retire began to “mature” during his Mexico and Cuba trip last year, and became set in his mind in recent months. He had, however, given indications in speeches, in the book/interview, “Light of the World” and in a December talk at a senior citizens’ home in Rome that, if he were to find himself in circumstances where he could not perform the duties of the Petrine ministry, then renouncing the papacy would be a possibility.

Many questions were asked at the press briefing to which Fr. Lombardi said he did not have a specific answer but would inquire:

1. Would Benedict participate in the inaugural Mass of is successor?

2. Have the cardinals been formally notified of the conclave, etc.?

3. Have the current residents of the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta where conclave cardinals reside been informed of a date they must vacate their rooms?

4. What happens to the papal ring and seal and other objects that are usually broken or destroyed when a Pope dies? In this case, Benedict will still be with us

5. Could Pope Benedict himself now write a document and solve some of these issues?

6. How will people refer to Benedict XVI after his resignation? His title? We do know he is now the Bishop of Rome so he will be the former Bishop of Rome.

The date for the start of the conclave to elect Benedict’s successor has not been announced but Msgr. Guido Marini, master of papal ceremonies, has said it would start 15 to 20 days, after the Pope leaves. This is according to John Paul’s 1996 Apostolic Constitution “Universi dominici gregis”, though people are still studying this to determine events.

THE DISMAY, SURPRISE, AMAZEMENT OF CARDINALS AT PAPAL ANNOUNCEMENT

From the February 12 (2013) edition of L’Osservatore Romano:

“Dismay, surprise, amazement and emotion at the words of Benedict XVI who announced his decision to ‘renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome’. These sentiments were etched on the faces of the cardinals, bishops and prelates – assembled for the Ordinary Public Concistory on Monday morning, 11 February, in the Concistory Hall of the Apostolic Palace – who heard the unexpected announcement in the Pope’s own voice.

“Everyone’s eyes met, a light murmur swelled in the hall and astonishment faded into sorrow. Yet, after the first few moments of confusion, the unanimous recognition that the Pope’s act was a very lofty act of humility made headway among those present – who included the papal masters of ceremony, representatives of the postulations, choristers of the Sistine Chapel Choir, papal chair bearers and technicians.

“It was a decision that took everyone by surprise. As did the fact that the Pope – accompanied by Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Prefect of the Papal Household, and Archbishop Guido Pozzo, the Pope’s Almoner, Mons. Leonardo Sapienza, Regent of the Papal Household, and Alfred Xuereb of the Pope’s Private Secretariat – chose to communicate it personally when, at the end of the celebration of Midday Prayer and after the announcement that the three canonizations on the agenda of the Concistory would be held next 12 May, he read the Latin text of the Declaratio written in his own hand. Speaking in a firm, calm voice, while those present listened to him in an almost unreal silence, he explained the reasons for his decision, made “with full freedom”, and “after having repeatedly examined my conscience before God”.

“The prayerful, joyous atmosphere turned into sadness. The spokesman who rose to the occasion was Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals who immediately took the floor on behalf of all the cardinals. “Your Holiness, beloved and venerable Successor of Peter”, he said, “your moving message rang out in this hall like a bolt from the blue. We heard it with a sense of bewilderment, almost totally unbelieving. In your words we noted the great affection which you have always had for God’s holy Church, for this Church which you have so deeply loved”.

“Now, he added, ‘may I be permitted to tell you on behalf of the apostolic ‘upper room’, the College of Cardinals, on behalf of your dear co-workers, that we are closer to you than ever, as we have been especially close in these luminous eight years of your pontificate’”.

“The Cardinal assured Benedict XVI that ‘before 28 February, as you said, the day on which you wish to give the last word to your papal service, carried out so lovingly, so humbly, before 28 February we will have an opportunity to express our sentiments to you better. A great number of pastors and of the faithful, scattered across the world, will do likewise, as will numerous people of good will, together with the authorities of a great many countries”. He then made a reference to the upcoming commitments of the Pope.

During this month we shall have the joy of hearing your voice as a pastor: on Ash Wednesday, then on Thursday with the clergy of Rome, at the Angelus on the coming Sundays, at the Wednesday General Audiences. There will thus be many occasions on which to hear your fatherly voice again”. “Your mission”, he concluded, “will nevertheless continue”. You said that you will always be close to us with your witness and with your prayers. Of course, the stars of heaven always continue to shine and thus the star of your pontificate will always shine among us. We are close to you, Holy Father, and please bless us’.”

POPE BENEDICT SAYS RUMORS HE WAS FORCED TO RESIGN ARE “ABSURD”

Just days before the first anniversary of his February 28, 2013 resignation, Pope emeritus Benedict wrote a letter to an Italian journalist and said media speculation that he was forced by a group of cardinals to resign because of issues such as the Wikileaks scandal and clerical sex abuse cases was “simply absurd.”

Andrea Tornielli of La Stampa had written to the former pontiff with three questions: he asked about the reason for his resignation, why he continues to wear white and why he kept the name Benedict. Tornielli’s questions to the Pope emeritus arose because of press reports that Benedict was pressured to quit by a group of cardinals opposed to him, and for this reason his resignation was invalid. The charge was that Benedict considered himself still to be Pope, and continued to wear the papal white and keep his papal name.

Tornielli’s article appeared in the February 26  (2014) edition of the Italian daily “La Stampa.” He said Pope emeritus Benedict personally penned answers to the question in a simple and direct fashion.

Before he stepped down a year ago, Benedict on several occasions, most notably on February 11 when he announced his impending resignation to a group of cardinals, spoke of failing physical strength due to old age as the reason for his resignation.

In his letter to Tornielli, he wrote: “There is absolutely no doubt regarding the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry.” He said the only condition for the validity of his resignation was the complete freedom of his decision.

In 2010, in the book/ interview with Peter Seewald, “Light of the World,” Benedict said at one point: “If a Pope realizes with clarity that he is no longer able, physically, psychologically and spiritually, to absolve the duties of his office, then he has the right and, in some circumstances even the obligation, to resign.”

As to his wearing white, Benedict XVI said that, at the time of his resignation, no other clothes were available so he kept the white cassock for “purely practical reasons.” He also noted that he wears it in a different way than Francis, without the sash and the cape. The Pope emeritus said questions about his attire was another example of “completely unfounded speculation.” He kept the name Benedict also “for practical reasons.”

It is known that Pope Francis and Pope emeritus Benedict have a close friendship and are in touch with each other on a very frequent basis.

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