Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate his fifth anniversary as pope April 19.
It’s clear by now that he won’t get the same treatment on that day that he did for his other anniversaries. For the world’s media, this one will be another opportunity to try to taint his reputation by pinning on him the lion’s share of the blame for the developing abuse scandal.
Many Catholics know that the evidence shows Pope Benedict has probably done more than any other bishop to reach out to victims and root out what he has called “filth” from the Church. Those Catholics are frustrated. Other Catholics, who get their news about the Church from the secular media, are confused or even scandalized.
The question, of course, is why we — people of faith — should let the secular media define for us what a pope is and what our attitude towards him should be. Why should a non-believing journalist on the religion beat be more credible than a cardinal or a pope, or St. Catherine of Siena, who called the pope the ‘sweet Christ on Earth’?
Right now, Catholics are the ones who most need to be reminded what their pope is.
On the rock of Peter our Church is built. To him and his successors — Christ’s vicars — have been entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of heaven. The pope is the visible foundation of the Church. Christ prayed for him that his faith might not fail, that he might strengthen his brethren.
Voices in the media tell us that Pope Benedict is presiding over an unprecedented disaster. The truth is that he’s presiding over the greatest success story of all time: The grace of the sacraments and the power of the Resurrection are reaching a billion Catholics worldwide under his pastoral care.
Right now, Catholics are the ones who most need to be reminded how much this pope has done for them. His ministry and his teaching have opened the eyes and hearts of more than 10 million pilgrims at events in Rome, and he has taken it to five continents on pastoral visits. We think that’s a good start.
The big story here is how much God has worked through him in his first five years as Pope. That’s why we began to commission short essays to honor him for his anniversary just a few weeks ago. Those essays are now taking on a meaning and depth we couldn’t have imagined. We’re fortunate to have this man leading us, and these essays tell why.
We stand by that story. And we stand by our Holy Father. So we hope you enjoy reading these tributes as much as we did.
— The Editors
BY ARCHBISHOP JOSEPH KURTZ
Archbishop Kurtz is the archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky, which was established as the Diocese of Bardstown in 1808 along with the dioceses of Boston, New York and Philadelphia, out of the territory of the Baltimore Diocese, the first Catholic diocese in the United States.
How quickly five years have passed since the April 19, 2005, news of the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI. I recall my gratitude and elation at the news. Five years later, this gratitude has only deepened.
I recall the ad limina visit of United States bishops in 2004. As part of Region V, I was in the group that met with the Holy Father during the first week of December. Our last day, Saturday, was the richest by far. Of course the highlight was our group meeting with the then very frail Pope John Paul II at noon.
Right before that meeting we went to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and it was at this meeting that I had my first personal experience with the future pope. I remember a cordial and engaging meeting that began when he shook hands with each of the 20 bishops. As he moved around the table to say hello, I was struck by his gentle personality and by the warmth of his hospitality. He brought a calming effect to the spirit of that encounter. This is not always the case when a leader enters. I remember thinking to myself that the vibrations were so good.
The meeting revealed a man who listened carefully to the questions raised by the bishops and who grasped the issues and addressed them directly. I was very impressed. The future pope approached the 20 bishops with all the elements of good dialogue: civility, respect, a listening ear, a capacity to articulate his understanding of the truth, and the capacity to respond. It was an example of dialogue at its best.
That summer I traveled to Cologne for World Youth Day and saw his gentle but powerful presence again, this time with one and a half million of his closest friends. As I prayed with him and this multitude in silence before the Blessed Sacrament, I recalled his description of himself at the time of his election: “a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.”
Since his election I have become much more familiar with his homilies of past and present and see him as a gentle and courageous “teaching” Pope. It is said that multitudes crowded St. Peter’s Square to “see” Pope John Paul II, but even greater multitudes come to “hear” our great shepherd.
His constant theme of unity in truth and charity resonates throughout these five years and from continent to continent. His presence in the United States for our bicentennial year, so special to the Archdiocese of Louisville — formerly the Diocese of Bardstown — continues to inspire our local Church. Even in the midst of the challenges within and beyond our Church, he is a beacon who humbly and eloquently points to our Savior, Jesus Christ.
May this Vicar of Christ on Earth have good health for many years as we give thanks for his great leadership as our shepherd.