January 5, 2023

In every corner of world, Catholic leaders pay tribute to Pope Benedict XVI

(OSV News) -- Catholic leaders from every corner of the world have been paying tribute to Pope Benedict XVI and his legacy. Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, Australia, recalled meeting the pope at World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008, describing him as "the gentlest of men."

"In the end, what mattered to (Benedict XVI) was being faithful to Jesus Christ and being loving toward Christ's people, and that he did in spades," he told SBS News in Australia. "He clearly was one of the greatest thinkers that has ever sat in the chair of St Peter, and he brought with that wonderful understanding of the Catholic faith an ability to articulate it." 

In New Zealand, Cardinal John Dew of Wellington praised Pope Benedict for having the courage to relinquish his papacy in February 2013.

"As we look back now, I think it was a very brave and courageous thing to do," Cardinal Dew told RNZ Radio. "He said, 'I can no longer do this.' At that stage, he was 85 and it's an enormous task for anyone ... a position like that needs stamina. It was a wise thing for him to do."

In Canada, Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto compared Pope Benedict to Fathers of the Church like St. Augustine of Hippo. He said Benedict offered insight arising not only "from his astonishing intellect and learning, but also from his personal holiness and pastoral care for God’s people."

"His writings will help guide disciples of Jesus in the centuries that lie before us," he said in a statement posted on the website of the archdiocese. "As pope, he led the universal church with wisdom and holiness, providing a clear and loving message of how our faith can inspire us and guide us through the storms of life’s journey."

Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town, South Africa, singled out Pope Benedict's teachings on the role and rights of conscience as an example of a valuable contribution to the Church and the world. In an interview with SABC News Channel SA Today, Archbishop Brislin said Benedict was a man of "enormous courage and enormous conscience."

He said: "From his young years, when he deserted from the Nazis and the German army at the time of (World War II), he showed he was a person of conscience and that conscience lived with him throughout his life."

Also in Africa, Congolese Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa said: "The people of Africa know that Benedict XVI treated them in a very special way during his pontificate."

In a statement issued on behalf of the members of the Symposium of Episcopal Conference of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), Cardinal Ambongo recalled that the pope "convened the Second Synodal Assembly for Africa in order to give the Church of God on the African continent a new impetus charged with evangelical hope and charity."

Pope Benedict encouraged Africa to "trust in itself in order to stand up with dignity," the Franciscan cardinal said. "He saw in her the spiritual lung for a humanity that seems to be in crisis of faith and hope."

In South America, Paraguayan Cardinal Adalberto Martinez Flores of Asunción, who was flying to Rome to assist in the funeral of Pope Benedict, expressed his sorrow at the death of the pope via Twitter.

"We thank God for the gift of his life and Benedict XVI for the testimony of having lived in a permanent yes to his will," he wrote. "And as he has said, today he lives the 'encounter' for which he has prepared all his life with the judge, who is also the friend, who awaits us and loves us."

In Colombia, Archbishop Ricardo Tobón of Medellín, who was appointed to the diocese by Benedict, recalled his meeting with the pope. "He was a pontiff of great stature, serious in all his positions and concepts, very concerned about the reality of the human beings, very close to everyone, especially to ordinary people," he told Blu Radio.

Cardinal Charles Bo, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conference wrote earlier that Pope Benedict "remained faithful to the tradition and teachings of the Church."

Cardinal Joseph Zen, Hong Kong’s outspoken cardinal and democracy advocate, arrested last year, was allowed to leave China and to attend the funeral Mass of Pope Benedict, a symbolic tribute to the pope who named the prelate a cardinal in 2006.

Multiple European prelates will attend Pope Benedict's funeral Jan. 5. In Poland, where Pope Benedict was particularly loved, all tickets to Rome from major cities were sold out on the weekend before the funeral, and some bishops opted to drive south.

Pope Benedict was especially well received in Poland during his papacy, a country he showed much affection to as a land of his admired predecessor, Pope St. John Paul II.

Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw, said in a news conference Dec. 31 that "in a creative way Pope Benedict XVI continued the legacy of John Paul II. They had one heart and similar thinking." He added, "He walked in the way of truth."

Pope Benedict XVI spoke many phrases in Polish when he arrived to John Paul II's motherland for one of his first apostolic trips in 2006. 

"He did not know Polish, but his effort to speak the language of his predecessor was just so enormously supportive for the Polish people. I think we're one of the nations that as a whole will remember Benedict XVI fondly," Father Michal Legan, scholar of Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow, told OSV News.

Even if Benedict XVI was greeted with mixed reaction upon his arrival to the United Kingdom in 2010, this trip is now highlighted as one of the milestones for the local Church.

"We saw his courtesy, his gentleness, the perceptiveness of his mind and openness of his welcome to everybody he met," Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, wrote on Twitter. "He was through and through a gentleman, a scholar, a pastor, a man of God, close to the Lord & always his humble servant."

The German pontiff was widely remembered in his native country, even if his relationship with a local Church was for years troublesome. His biographer, Peter Seewald, in an interview with OSV News, refers to the Gospel that "No prophet is recognized in his homeland." This seems to have been with Pope Benedict in Germany, Seewald said.

"In fact, those words in the Gospel seem to have been written just for Ratzinger. He was completely neglected in his homeland. He was fought against by currents of the Catholic Church that were somehow completely blocked to proceed with his way, with his ideas, with his theology and with his Catholicism in general," he told OSV News.

Benedict XVI is nevertheless remembered in his homeland fondly as a passionate scholar, teacher of theology, a convinced and persuasive pastor of the Church, a pilgrim, a philanthropist and a man of prayer by the current chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg.

"His pontificate and his many years of episcopal work will be remembered vividly," Bishop Batzing said in a statement that was followed by a detailed obituary.

Seewald underscored that view, telling OSV News: "I think Benedict XVI will be canonized someday, and his work cannot be taken out of the world. It will bear fruit anew."

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