Pope Benedict XVI marked his 85th birthday by reflecting on his final years as he celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving in the Vatican’s Pauline Chapel.
“I find myself on the last stretch of my journey in life, and I don’t know what is awaiting me,” said the Pope in his homily.
“I know, however, that the light of God exists, that he is risen, that his light is stronger than any darkness, that God’s goodness is stronger than any evil in this world. And this helps me go forward with confidence.”
Pope Benedict was born and christened Joseph Alois Ratzinger on Holy Saturday, April 16, 1927. At today’s Mass, he thanked his parents for giving him the gift of life and baptism on the same day.
“Life becomes a true gift with it if you can make a promise that is stronger than any evil that will threaten us, if it is dipped into a force that ensures that it is good to be a man,” he said. He explained this is why “birth is associated with rebirth” in baptism, the sacrament which makes us members of the “great, new family of God.”
Before the Mass, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, praised the Pope for his generosity in carrying out “this service of love” as the Successor of Peter.
“Holy Father, may the Lord continue to remain at your side, accomplishing the promise announced by God to the just man in Psalm 90: ‘With long life I will satisfy them and show them my salvation,’” said Cardinal Sodano.
After the Mass, Pope Benedict retired to the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, where he was met by a delegation of bishops and civic leaders from his Bavarian homeland in southern Germany.
They provided him with a birthday display of local culture, including a group of children who performed traditional Bavarian dances, clothed in the region’s traditional garb. The youthful troupe then recited a birthday poem in German before presenting the Pope with flowers and a traditional Bavarian maypole or “Maibaum,” which was covered in ribbons.
Bavaria’s state premier, Horst Seehofer, also presented the Pope with a crucifix carved by the 18th-century Bavarian sculptor Ignaz Günther.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich gave Pope Benedict a basket of traditional foodstuffs, including ham, cakes and dark bread, thought to be the Pope’s favorite.
The Pontiff was also serenaded by traditional Bavarian musicians who performed a song that he and his two siblings, Georg and Maria, sang as children while their father, Joseph, played the zither. The Pope’s older brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, was present for today’s festivities.
“This is the sound of my childhood,” said a smiling Pope Benedict to his 150 or so guests. The gathering concluded with a communal rendition of the Bavarian anthem.