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from issue no. 03 - 2007

The friendship learned in the School of Saint Augustine

by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB

It is written in the Bible that the years of the life of a man “are seventy, eighty for the most robust” (Psalm 89, 10). Yes, the Holy Father Benedict XVI carries his eighty years very well, but he is numbered in the category of the “most robust” for very different reasons. The Lord, in fact, has equipped him with a truly exceptional “robustness” in the intellectual and spiritual sense, not only in terms of the vast and deep theological culture, acknowledged by all, but also for that exquisite gentleness of his that has nothing formal about it, but expresses an extraordinary concern for individuals. The way in which Pope Benedict XVI exchanges some words not just suitable for the occasion, but personally addressed to each of those he meets, even in the most crowded audiences, is very striking. Further: his sense of friendship, something he sincerely considers sacred. Friendship with God, first of all, and then also human and fraternal friendship learned in the School of Saint Augustine, for whom friendship must be cemented «with the charity of the Holy Spirit, poured in our hearts» (Confessions IV, 4, 7).
I have some very fine memories of working with Cardinal Ratzinger from when I was consultant to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, therefore from the ’eighties, and still before becoming Secretary of that Department. First of all I would like to emphasize the clarity of his doctrine, in a language never less than noble, but at the same time his capacity to persuade. And then his unfailing friendship, a true strength, beyond the changeability of men. As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger used to say that his task was to defend the faith of the simple from ambiguous and mistaken doctrines of the so-called sages of this world.
On 15 September 2006, Benedict XVI called me to collaborate with him as his Secretary of State. In undertaking this arduous task two certainties gave me courage: I would be guided by Divine Providence, and could count on the deep communion with the Holy Father and on his genuine trust. A communion that fortifies dedication to the service of the Church and the international community – and therefore to human dignity and peaceful coexistence between peoples – and that translates into loyal and faithful collaboration, strengthened by the priestly spirit and the pastoral charity that must always animate all our activity.
Very gladly, then, did I receive the invitation to offer my contribution to this number of 30Days, dedicated to the eightieth birthday of the Holy Father Benedict XVI. It gives me the possibility of expressing, through these lines also, the deep feelings of gratitude that I nurture towards him.
Benedict XVI unites in himself in an admirable way the roles of Teacher and Pastor. This is rooted, in depth, in the singular harmony with which, to my mind, Truth and Love come together in his soul, the two inseparable “names” of God that intertwine and illuminate each other reciprocally. If this union of doctrine and pastoral charity is proper to every ordained minister of the Church, it shines with greater splendor in those men of God who, by special gift of the Holy Spirit, achieve a robust synthesis at the level of thinking that radiates subsequently on the existential level.
Benedict XVI and Bartholomew I greeting the faithful from the balcony of the Patriarchate of Istanbul, 30 November 2006

Benedict XVI and Bartholomew I greeting the faithful from the balcony of the Patriarchate of Istanbul, 30 November 2006

Truth and Love: in every age humanity lives by these two truths and has more need of them than bread. But the men and the women of our time feel an even more acute need. At first glance they seem – and in effect on the surface they are – distracted and dispersed in many “things”, in much “doing”, much “appearing”. But it cannot escape those who see more deeply that the world at the beginning of the third millennium not only still needs Truth and Love, but especially needs their unity. And this, I believe, is one of the reasons why Providence chose Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Successor to Peter: because he teaches – and even before that testifies in his life – that there is no love without truth and there is no truth without love. It is not by chance that the first encyclical to issue from his pen opens precisely with the words that constitute the synthesis of all of Sacred Scripture: «Deus caritas est – God is love» (1Jn 4, 8.16).
There is then another and complementary key to interpreting the personality of the Holy Father that must not be neglected: the name he chose for himself, Benedict. Who in fact more than Saint Benedict of Norcia embodies the synthesis of contemplation and action that offered a valid answer to the great crisis of the transition between the Roman Empire and what would become Europe? Today we are going through another long epochal transition that reached a tragic peak in Europe in the twentieth century and is moving toward a still undefined outcome, certainly no longer eurocentric but global. The Lord makes use of many of his humble and faithful servants in order to guide the fates of men according to his plan of salvation. Among them have been such giants as the pontiffs John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II, but also saints who lived in great simplicity such as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Saint Faustina Kowalska, Saint Pio da Pietrelcina. To these are joined innumerable “living rocks”, unknown to men but well known to God, that solidly founded on Christ build up the new humanity. It is in this context that, after Pope Wojtyla who steered it into the “immense ocean” of the third millennium, on 19 April 2005 God called to the tiller of Peter’s boat Joseph Ratzinger, a humble and courageous «laborer in the vineyard of the Lord», as he said as soon as elected, sweet and strong «collaborator with truth», as his episcopal coat of arms states. With heartfelt hope we pray that the fruits of his pontificate may be truly abundant, but already now we taste the first fruits and give praise to the Lord for it.

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