For the first time, the anniversary of Benedict XVI’s resignation from the pontificate took place without Benedict XVI. And yet, since Pope Emeritus passed away last December 31, he has never been so present in the life of the Church. So much so that Pope Francis, in the press conference on the return flight from his trip to Africa, also had to clarify –in his way– his relationship with the Pope Emeritus.
“In his way” because the words of Pope Francis not only contradict the reconstructions of some events regarding Archbishop Georg Gaesnwein, secretary of the Pope Emeritus. But also because the way Pope Francis responds to questions about Benedict XVI seems evasive, hasty, and defensive. After all, Pope Francis has never explained why he wanted the funeral so much in the background, why he never prayed in front of the body of Benedict XVI, and why, in the end, complete honor was not given to the Pope Emeritus.
Ten years later, with Benedict XVI already dead, it can be said that the soul of Benedict XVI has never been so present in the Church. Naturally, in a situation of uncertainty, one immediately thinks of what Benedict XVI would have said, and what he would have done. But the Pope Emeritus is not used as a shield. On the contrary, it has become quite an inspiration.
Considering that Benedict XVI was shy and had never even wanted to create a theological school, the fact that he could be an inspiration is quite surprising. But this happened, despite his preferences.
It happened precisely because Benedict XVI had never sought power for himself. He has not talked about structural reforms, nor has he set up pompous commissions, but he has tried to act to reform the Church starting from simple things, one step at a time.
Benedict XVI spoke of the conversion of hearts, but he did not do it by imposing it, nor did he make it a banner. Instead, he relied on people, trying to trust them and not hurt anyone’s sensitivities when things didn’t work out.
He might have appeared as a conservative, but in reality, few have known how to reform the Church like him. It was more than the renunciation, the revolutionary gesture which has now become like a flag to hide all the other things that Benedict XVI has represented.
Benedict XVI laid the foundations for the reform of the Fundamental Law of Vatican City State Law. He ordered the first Vatican trial for the leak of documents. He wanted financial reform, and to let the Holy See enter the evaluation process of the MONEYVAL committee of the Council of Europe.
His letter to Chinese Catholics laid the foundations for a moment of coexistence with Beijing. Fragile coexistence, as are all those in which the Church is not recognized, but which in any case had led to the appointment of several bishops with the double approval of Rome and Beijing.
With his letter to Irish Catholics, Benedict XVI showed courage in addressing the abuse issue, even going so far as to apologize.
The media returned to the image of a conservative and, therefore, divisive Pope. But Benedict XVI instead sought the unity of the Church, and that was his thinking when he liberalized the ancient rite of the Mass.
He was a man of the Second Vatican Council, aware that the Church had to take responsibility for her actions but also careful to distinguish between error and doubt, sin and sinner, and between sinful men and structures.
Benedict XVI also knew how to make the Church do penance, as he did at Fatima, where he said Our Lady’s prophecy was not yet fulfilled.
The government of Benedict XVI was an uphill pontificate, which never enjoyed any a priori sympathy from the media. Yet, it was a pontificate appreciated by the people who went to listen to a Pope who had conquered them with the simplicity and depth of his speeches.
Ten years later, the memory of an authentic papacy remains. Perhaps it is true that everyone has been using it against Pope Francis in recent months, as Pope Francis himself said. But Benedict XVI was exploited, attacked, and betrayed by his collaborators, yet he always endured the attacks.
The greatest revolution of Benedict XVI was raising the cultural depth of men of the Church. If a faith not nourished by reason is insufficient, it is essential to nurture reason.
Benedict XVI nourished reason by recalling that this meant quaerere Deum, seeking God and always bringing Christ back to the center of everything. And this strength allowed him to go beyond the scandals, with freedom, without feeling tied to public opinion, serving the truth.
His legacy lies precisely in not being afraid, in this ability to protect the Church from danger by carrying her on his shoulders. He was Pope Emeritus for nine years, and he was able to do so with humility, praying for the Pope, and also showing sincere happiness.
He was a pure man, Benedict XVI. And today, when he is no longer with us, his purity has become a beacon of encouragement for many to speak out, to share what they feel is not working in the Church today. And it is precisely for this reason that Benedict XVI is frightening today. It is incredible that, ten years after his renunciation, his presence is still so alive, despite a popular pontificate like that of Pope Francis. And yet, Benedict XVI remained present, loved, considered, and remembered. Benedict XVI’s legacy, in the end, is love: the love he had for God and the love people gave him when they recognized his passion for God.