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Second and final part of the exclusive interview with Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, brother of Pope Benedict XVI.
BY ROBERT RAUHUTREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
Msgr. Georg Ratzinger has the rarest of distinctions: His
younger brother, Joseph, is the Pope. In the second part of his exclusive
interview with the Register, Msgr. Ratzinger — the former director of the
world-famous Regensburger Domspatzen choir — discusses his life as a priest,
his passion for music, and his memories of his brother’s predecessor, Pope John
Paul II. He spoke last month with Register correspondent Robert Rauhut at Msgr.
Ratzinger’s home in Regensburg, Bavaria.
How did you discover
It was a different time then. Today, one expects an
enlightening event, a certain feeling that gives insight.
From childhood onwards we participated in ecclesial life. I
became an altar server very early. That was the world I felt at home in. And in
this regular experience of the liturgy, also as altar server, it became clear
for me: That’s my place, that’s where I belong.
I did not need a particular event. My vocation had gradually
How did your parents
react? Both sons decided for the priesthood.
There was no particular reaction by our parents because it
Our parents said: “You have to know that. We help you, we do
our part, we give you opportunities, but you have to know it.”
Our parents said it from the beginning: “Parents are not
allowed to force children one way or the other. The parents have to stand
behind their children’s decisions.”
I remember Cardinal [Joseph] Höffner, deceased archbishop of
Cologne, talked about his vocation. His father was speechless but then said, “I
suppose I will have to buy you a black suit.”
Did you have any
No, no doubts of faith. But there are always questions,
where I have to say, “I do not understand that, that’s a riddle to me and I do
not know how other people understand that. Our Lord will clear it up, on the
Difficulties of understanding are there again and again. But
doubts of faith? No.
What has been your
high point during your life as priest?
During the Second Vatican Council, the Regensburger
Domspatzen and I were allowed to musically design one of the Eucharists. Every
council session began with a solemn Mass in which all council fathers were
assembled. That was magnificent.
It was the first time that I took part in a Eucharist at St.
Peter’s Basilica: the assembly of the bishops, the Pope at the altar,
non-Catholic and press observers … Accompanying the Mass was very elevating.
Is there an oasis
where you spiritually refresh yourself?
The most important part of the day is the Eucharist, which I
concelebrate daily. Because of my eye problems I cannot celebrate on my own, so
I am forced to concelebrate.
I cannot imagine life without daily celebration. Just to
celebrate once a week — as some priests do — is not imaginable for me.
I refresh myself in the Eucharist, early in the morning, in
an atmosphere of quietness, of peace, of adoration. It is also an inner
building up. That suffices for the whole day.
That’s the way the day has to start; I like the Eucharist
most in the morning. Consequently you do not need much more in order to feed
What role does
patriotism, being tied to one’s roots, mean to you and your family?
Our home is here, where our mind rests, where we belong.
First Traunstein, much later Regensburg. After all the journeys, one has his
place, his stability, where one belongs, where one can come to rest, retire.
Being tied to one’s roots is a necessity in a human life.
That will never become passé; this is true of young people, even of
Is there a place where
you would wish to go, together with your brother?
In the past I wanted to make a trip to Spain, to Santiago de
Compostela, the place of pilgrimage connected with St. James. I would have
loved to see that, but also Toledo with its wonderful huge churches.
Today, I have written that off. But for a long time that had
been my dream.
Music is your passion. You directed for so many years the
Regensburger choir, one of the most famous in the world. What criteria should
liturgical music fulfill?
Liturgical music must lead towards prayer and meditation. It
has to calm one, to enable one to concentrate on God, on the essential.
The basic attitude, adoration, is essential in the liturgy. It
has to help in that. What does not help is obviously not suitable.
What kind of music do
For me, Gregorian chant is strongly associated with the
early period of Christianity — unsentimental, unspectacular, simple,
concentrating on interiority, but also classical, vocal polyphony and classical
music like Haydn, Mozart and Schubert.
For many people, Pope
John Paul II is a saint. What do you think of him?
I admired him from the very beginning. I met him personally
in the Hercules hall in Munich during his first German visit, where he was
talking to artists. We were allowed to sing there.
He seemed likable to me from the beginning. He was a type of
father figure, he radiated goodness and benevolence. One knew that from
pictures and the TV, but in personal encounters, one experienced it firsthand.
His solidarity, his friendliness — not only because of his
human temperament, but increased and deepened because he did it as
representative of our faith, as Pope, so that the humanness was combined with
our understanding of God in a good way.
Sainthood is often placed at an unreachable place. I have a
“realistic concept of sainthood,” meaning human beings are simply human beings,
but in this area of humanness they radiate an ideal of humanness. And that is
the impression I got from Pope John Paul II.
I remember that during our second trip to Rome we were
allowed to sing in his private chapel and afterward we were allowed to sing two
songs in a room next to the chapel. The Pope came to each of us, greeted every
person, gave a greeting to the parents of the choir boys and handed out a small
There you could feel this human atmosphere in a very dense
and intensive way. I have esteemed him very much from the very beginning and
thought that this is the Pope for our time. One could have not wished a better
When I was visiting my brother in Rome in the 1990s, I had a
heart attack, and my brother told the Pope. And John Paul II said that he would
include me in his prayers. That was a very special consolation, a very special
Did the friendship
between Pope John Paul II and your brother affect you personally?
For that, I did not know the Holy Father well enough, but
maybe somehow yes.
During that second trip to Rome, I remember having taken
part in the breakfast with the Holy Father, together with my brother and
sister. One felt a real friendship.
But I think John Paul II was very kind to everybody he
encountered. An increase was not necessary, I believe.
In your view, what
should the faithful pay attention to?
I think there should be a change in thinking. On the one
hand, the situation of the Church is described with resignation as without any
future. But on the other hand, one notices that in the very places people are
resigned to one way, there are break-ups.
Faith is very deep inside, still alive in our area and
expresses itself in unexpected occurrences and actions. It is important that
those who are deeply faithful practice their faith, that they not hide their
faith, that they openly proclaim it — that they live their faith with decision.
I think that in such a context, fixed points are enormously important, and they
will attract people who falter, who do not know what do, who perhaps are open
but cannot decide. They need guideposts.
is based in Munich.