Following is my translation of an article in Italian in Vatican News, written by Andrea Tornielli. I used the official English translation for Pope Francis’ words to Benedict on June 28, 2016 (65th Anniversary of the Priestly Ordination of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (28 June 2016) | Francis (vatican.va)
“LORD, I LOVE YOU!” BENEDICT XVI’S LAST WORDS
The last words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI were heard in the middle of the night by a nurse. It was around 3 in the morning on December 31st, a few hours before his death. Ratzinger had not yet entered his agony, and at that moment his collaborators and assistants had taken turns. With him, at that precise moment, there was only a nurse who did not speak German.
“Benedict XVI,” his secretary, Bishop Georg Gänswein recounts with emotion, “in a whisper, but in an easily distinguishable way, said in Italian: ‘Lord, I love you!’ I was not there at that moment, but the nurse told me shortly after. Those were his last undertandable words because after that he was no longer able to express himself.”
Joseph Ratzinger and his brother George were both ordained to the priesthood on June 29, 1951:
“Lord, I love you!” is almost a synthesis of the life of Joseph Ratzinger who, for years, had been preparing for the definitive encounter, face to face, with the Creator. On 28 June 2016, on the 65th anniversary of the pope emeritus’ priestly ordination, Pope Francis (in an address to his predecessor) wanted to underline a ‘characteristic’ of the long history of Ratzinger’s priesthood.
He said: In one of the many beautiful passages you have written on the priesthood, you emphasize that, at the hour of Simon’s definitive call, Jesus, fixing his gaze on him, essentially asks only one thing: “Do you love me?” How beautiful and true this is! Because it is here, as you go on to tell us, in that “Do you love me?” that the Lord establishes the true meaning of shepherding, because only through love for the Lord will the Lord be able to shepherd through us: “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you”
This is the characteristic,” continued Francis, “that has predominated your entire life spent in priestly service and in the service of theology, which you defined, not by happenstance, as the search for the beloved; and this is indeed what you have always given witness to and continue to witness to today: that the decisive thing that frames each of our days — come rain or come shine — that which gives rise to everything else, is that the Lord is truly present, that we desire him, that we are close to him interiorly, that we love him, that we really believe in him and, believing in him, truly love him. It is this loving that truly fills our hearts, this believing that allows us to walk confidently and peacefully upon the waters, even in the midst of a storm, as Peter did. This loving and this believing allow us to look to the future not with fear or nostalgia, but with joy, even in the twilight of our lives.”