WASHINGTON — Pope Benedict’s eight years of service to the Church should leave the faithful filled with gratitude and renewed in both faith and love, said Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington.
“We are able to recognize that our Holy Father’s action speaks to us of his greatness and his ability to recognize the needs of the Church universal today,” the cardinal said at a Feb. 24 Mass of Thanksgiving for the service of Pope Benedict XVI.
Around 3,000 people gathered at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for the Mass.
In his homily, Cardinal Wuerl voiced gratitude to the Holy Father for his leadership and loving care.
He explained that “our hearts are filled with both faith and love” as we recognize Christ’s “continuing presence” in the “teaching office symbolized by the Chair of Peter” and experience “hearts filled with love for the person who for nearly eight years has sat in that chair — Pope Benedict XVI.”
On Feb. 11, Pope Benedict shocked the world by announcing that he would be retiring at the end of the month due to advanced age and declining strength.
“Now that some of the dust has settled,” Cardinal Wuerl said, “we are able clearly to see the courage, humility and honesty of our Holy Father” in choosing to step down.
Implicit in the Pope’s announcement, he explained, was the humble recognition “that it would be better that someone with more energy serve as Chief Shepherd of the Church at this time.”
The cardinal went on to say that this occasion also provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the role of the pope.
Recalling that Christ promised to build his Church on the foundation of Peter, he noted that the “Petrine office is exercised today in an age of instantaneous communication, where social media dominate how we relate to one another and how, therefore, the voice of Peter must be articulated to be heard.”
“Papal service in our day, more than ever, includes a ministry of presence,” he said. “It often involves extensive travel around the world to visit and pray with the faithful.”
Cardinal Wuerl also commented on the legacy that the Holy Father will leave behind.
“The task of the New Evangelization will always bear the mark of this Pope,” he said. “In a way, he made it the hallmark of his pontificate.”
Pope Benedict defined the New Evangelization as “the re-proposing of the Gospel to the people of our age and culture,” he continued.
But beyond simply defining it, he said, the Pope also “told us it consists of the ordinary ongoing catechesis that is the formation of every believer, the outreach to those who have never heard of Christ, and the special effort to touch those who have been baptized and have fallen away from the practice of the faith.”
Benedict XVI also challenged the faithful “to renew our own faith, so that we would find renewed confidence in the truth of God’s word and then be able to share it with others,” the cardinal explained. He added that he also believes the Holy Father will be remembered “for his enduring commitment to the compatibility and complementarity of faith and reason as we make our way through life, blessed with both the gift of our intellect and a capability to hear also the revelation of God.”
“While he will step aside from that chair, while he may leave his Petrine office, he will never leave our hearts, which are filled with respect, admiration and love for him,” Cardinal Wuerl said.
“So, we say today, as we celebrate the ministry of St. Peter the Apostle, thank you, Pope Benedict, for your guidance, for your leadership, for your pastoral love.”