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from issue no. 01/02 - 2005

«A thank you that wells from the heart»

«It was also, I’m convinced of it, a reference to the grace of God which is the supreme spring of consolation». Interview with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

by Gianni Cardinale

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

«It seems to me that the meaning of this period of the life of John Paul II is well explained by the words that the Pontiff had read for him by his deputy, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, during the course of the Angelus on Sunday 6 February. And that is: “Also here in hospital, along with the other sick patients, I continue to serve the Church and all of humanity”. And I wish to emphasize the “to serve the Church and all of humanity”». Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone wished the Pope a quick recovery from Genoa, the city where he has been archbishop since the end of 2002, after having been for seven years deputy of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. «This presenting himself as a sick person among the sick» the cardinal continues «made me think immediately of his pilgrimage to Lourdes in August of last year, an act among the more moving of the entire pontificate. As was the episode of the child who, gravely ill, insisting as children know how to, succeeded in visiting the Pope and asked him to pray for his recovery and that of all of his peers being treated in the Gemelli…».

Your Eminence, what can the teaching of a weak and hospitalized pope be?
TARCISIO BERTONE: Recently I visited the hospital of Santa Corona, the deparment that looks after the paraplegics, and I recalled the figure of the Pope as an icon of the Church and of suffering and pained humanity, who arouses wonder and solidarity in the growing conviction that suffering and physical weakness should not be considered a negative feature for humanity, but a resource. Among these paraplegics – many of whom were victims of road accidents – I was struck by the lively intelligence and the penetrating look, a sign of great capacity for understanding and planning. The figure of the old and sick Pope has a great educational value. The old in fact feeling themselves by now close to the end of life, tend to concentrate on the essential and not to waste their time on secondary questions. In this the Pope is master and educates us in the essential. And reminds us, us men of the Church as well, that the Church is in the hands of the Lord, that the Church is His, that it is not in our hands that are always weak even if they seem full of physical or intellectual vigor.
Are you afraid of what might happen?
BERTONE: No, absolutely. Of course, I heard with trepidation the news of the Pope’s hospitalization in the Gemelli hospital. However, I must say that I was in Rome and was able to meet and talk to him on 12 and 14 January last. On those occasions I found him lucid, of quick memory and able to converse. Not only. During the general audience on the 12th, I noticed that he participated in a Polish song sung by the pilgrims, tapping out the time with his fingers, and followed with attention the Marian hymn of the sanctuary of the Madonna of the Watch that we Genovese sung for him. Now, I don’t believe that in a month there can have been a catastrophic worsening.
Of course, the weakness, a certain physical debilitation and the hoarseness are real facts, obvious to everyone. But, to play it down, I must say that, for example, in these days here in the Curia of the archdiocese we have the vicar general, the pro-vicar, the bursar and the chancellor all sick with fevers, and all without voice…
Do you fear that this situation could have negative repercussions for the government of the Church?
BERTONE: In the years spent in the Roman Curia by the side of Cardinal Ratzinger, I was fortunate to be close to the Pope and had the possibility of experiencing his capacity of governing the Church, thanks also to the collaborators, necessary and faithful, who are around him. I know his collaborators. I have no doubt that they are faithful to the Pope and the Church. So therefore we must be tranquil.
The Pope in Lourdes on 15 August 2004

The Pope in Lourdes on 15 August 2004

In the media there was a great hubbub of hypotheses about retirement…
BERTONE: I don’t intend to talk about this subject. Leo XIII, Pius IX and Paul VI also had difficult times because of health problems, but they decided – doing well in my opinion – to continue their service until the moment of death. The Pope is not the president of a multinational even a religious one. He is the successor of Peter at the head of the apostolic College who, because of this, enjoys special help from the Holy Spirit. And therefore it is a good that he descends from his Chair only when God calls him to Himself.
Your Eminence, let us return to the Angelus of 6 February. On that occasion the Pope expressed his gratitude several times…
BERTONE: Yes, it struck me that in the few lines of the text read by his deputy, the Pope used words such as «thanks from the heart», «may the expression of my gratitude… reach you», «I assure you of my gratitude». But above all it struck me that among the words pronounced directly by the Pope the clearest was «thank you» itself. It was a thanks – surging from the heart – for filial love, for the “fellow-suffering” that the Pope felt around him and his figure. And it was also, I am convinced of it, a reference to the grace of God that is the supreme spring of consolation.

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