Six years ago today – Feb. 11, 2013 – the world witnessed history being made when Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would resign the papacy, the first pope to willingly do so since Pope Celestine V in 1294.
Calling it "a decision of great importance for the life of the Church,” Pope Benedict said he decided to resign due to a "lack of strength of mind and body" required to fulfill the duties of his office. He promised that he would continue to serve the Church "through a life dedicated to prayer."
His resignation was effective Feb. 28, 2013. In my office, I watched live via the Internet as Benedict made his final departure from the Vatican to begin his retirement at Castel Gandolfo, the papal retreat.
As I recall these historic moments, I cannot help remembering Benedict’s April 2008 visit to Washington where he celebrated Mass at Nationals Park and visited with then-President George W. Bush at the White House.
I covered his White House visit for the Catholic Standard. I still remember the thunderous applause Benedict received when he told the more than 13,000 people assembled on the South Lawn that “I am happy to be here as a guest of all Americans. I come as a friend, a preacher of the Gospel and one with great respect for this vast pluralistic society. America’s Catholics have made, and continue to make, an excellent contribution to the life of their country.”
I always felt kind of sorry for Benedict. A quiet and reserved man, he assumed the papacy from one of the most charismatic and outgoing popes in Church history – St. John Paul II. Benedict had big shoes to fill. In my opinion, he filled them admirably.
I also admired not only Benedict’s love for our Catholic faith, but also his intelligence. He has not only written more than 60 books, but also speaks German, English, Italian, French, Spanish and a little bit of Portuguese.
By all accounts, Benedict is doing well as he approaches his 92nd birthday next April. As I remember this historic day, I offer a prayer for the pope emeritus that he may enjoy a long and healthy retirement and that he may know that many of his spiritual sons and daughters still think of him often and fondly.