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from issue no. 03 - 2007

Pope Ratzinger: mind and heart

by Cardinal Jozef Tomko

Much water has passed under the bridges of the Tiber since 1969 when I met the young professor Joseph Ratzinger at the first meeting of the International Theological Commission of which it had been my task to organize the technical aspect. Among the thirty members there were names of great repute: Bishop Carlo Colombo, the vivacious Father Yves Congar, the humble Father Henri de Lubac, the loud (because of his poor hearing) Father Karl Rahner, the taciturn Hans Urs von Balthasar, to name but a few. Joseph Ratzinger was among the youngest, one saw him often in the company of the noted exegete Rudolf Schnackenburg. The general post-Council atmosphere was still fairly hot, but the discussions within the Commission were respectful, even if lively at times. Ratzinger said little and clearly showed his discreet, kind and sober temperament, with a measured but sincere cordiality. His theological and human reputation grew nevertheless.
In 1977 Paul VI appointed him archbishop of the Bavarian capital and cardinal; in 1980 John Paul II designated him main speaker at the important Synod on Marriage and the Family. One can say that this was his first appearance, prolonged by a month of collegial cooperation, under the eyes of pastors from all over the world. The depth of his learning, his respect for opinions linked to a linear clarity and pastoral sensibility, gained him large consensus among the world’s bishops and his nomination in 1981 as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, following on Cardinal Franjo Seper, surprised him maybe more than the episcopate.
There began the metamorphosis, certainly not of Cardinal Ratzinger but of his image in the media. Some applied their own categories to him and the clichés already used for the old Holy Office and made a “grand inquisitor” of him, heartless, rigid and tough, with adjectives that the media today is ashamed to put up with. An image deliberately distorted by some people both in terms of his doctrine and of his humanity. Those who knew him close up could only wonder at so much bitterness and admire his strength of mind and calm. I remember his deep extempore thinking in a meeting on the virtue of fortitude. It was his silent and dignified response to the unfair and base attacks. In our meetings within the Congregation, that – note well – still have the collegial method of proceeding, and in personal contacts we knew a different Ratzinger. The notes written with care in his notebook, with which he went into the topic we were to discuss, were a school not only of high theology, but also of reasonable moderation in tone. When it was a matter of confronting the opinions of a writer, the Prefect was always ready to propose dialogue with the theologian. His attitude toward the staff and even toward the people he met when in all simplicity, with the beret on his head and the briefcase in hand, he crossed Saint Peter’s Square on his way between office and home, showed his human heart.
A responsive heart and heart of a pastor. Those who heard his warm homily for the twenty-fifth anniversary of his episcopate in the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, in the presence of his countrymen in Bavarian costume, and the spiritual addresses given on other occasions, could glimpse the profound priestly spirituality of the cardinal. The public came across him largely at the funeral of the unforgettable John Paul II. For that matter, the tact and prudence with which he chaired the meetings of the College of Cardinals, gathered all together during the novendialia, made him known close up and also appreciated by cardinals coming from far away.
Benedict XVI during the Sunday recital of the Angelus

Benedict XVI during the Sunday recital of the Angelus

During those memorable events the public image of Cardinal Ratzinger changed and always became more true to life. It was him, with all his humanity and faith, who appeared the evening after his election on the loggia of Saint Peter’s Basilica with arms open to the crowd that had hastened to the piazza. And it was him again, only him, whom I was able to listen to the following morning in the Sistine Chapel, by then open, in a speech delivered in a polished Latin. Without expressly being so, it was fundamentally a programmatic speech: after a reference to the legacy of John Paul II there was the steadfast faith in divine help, the wish to follow the Vatican Council II as compass, in a spirit of episcopal collegiality, centered on the Eucharist and on the Risen Lord. That was followed by an appeal to priests, commitment to ecumenism and dialogue, to the human family and social development, and the appeal to young people.
The two years of the fertile pontificate are now present before the eyes of the world: the visit to Poland, the World Youth Day, the speeches in Bavaria, including that in Regensburg, Turkey as voyage of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue, the great speech to the Italian Church in Verona, to mention some acts only. People hasten to meet Benedict XVI because his every homily or speech is nourishment for the spirit and the mind. Even the brief Sunday reflection at the Angelus from the window of the Apostolic Palace, now become a cathedra, brings together a numerous crowd of faithful, Italian and foreign. A young man explained me: «I listen to him gladly because he speaks deeply, yet I understand him». The world has already rediscovered in Benedict XVI not only the lucid reasonableness of the professor and theologian but also and above all the pastor’s heart, servus servorum Dei, with the delicate smile and the open arms.
I think that the best wish for the eightieth birthday of Benedict XVI is the classical, liturgical one: «Dominus conservet eum!».

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