Cardinal William Levada

Prefect of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith

When I first met Cardinal Ratzinger, I was an official here at the Congregation — that’s going back 29, 30 years.

As a professor in a seminary, I’d used one of his books, “Introduction to Christianity,” as a textbook in one of the courses I taught, and I recognized him as a wonderful theologian. But I got to know him as a person who is very kind, very collegial in his approach.

One of my most lasting memories of those few months was when I was already scheduled to go back to my diocese in California.

It was a time when we were working on something, to try to get it out in a hurry, and he came into the meeting and sat down with us. That never happened in my time before, and we worked on this with him for about an hour together.

He heard what we had to say and he said: “Well, that is a good point,” and so forth. I thought this was really a very satisfying and efficient way to work. He is someone who is interested in what you are doing, and who reacts spontaneously in collaborative efforts.

So, that’s one memory I have, and I think that spirit has been continued here. I must say, when I came here to succeed him as prefect, I found a group of people working here at the Congregation who were sad to see him go.

Of course, they were happy that he had been appointed as Pope Benedict. But people here were happy working together as a team. He had formed that kind of spirit, a sense of team work, and he personally cultivated in each person a sense of value in the work that they did.

Joan Lewis

Vatican Correspondent, EWTN

I got to know the Holy Father as Cardinal Ratzinger, and I interviewed him for the Register many years ago. I remember being in awe of this man because of his reputation which was nothing like the negative reputation that preceded him.

My only meeting with him as Pope was in January 2007, and he is just as delightful and charming as he was then. He’s the same man I’d met 22 years earlier, not long after he came to work at the Vatican. He is a charming, humble, erudite man and you get the sense right away he has this great brain, but he’s not “brainy” in the sense of how this comes across. He does everything to make you feel at home.

A phrase I have always used when people ask if I have met him is: “He’s a gentleman and a gentle man.” I told that to his secretary once, and Msgr. Georg Gänswein sat back and said: “That’s the best definition I’ve heard of the Holy Father.”

They’re simple words but they get to the essence of the man. He’s a brilliant listener, he knows you have something to say, and that’s how and why he listens; he always knows that he can learn from people.

He also has this ability to synthesize what people have just said. That’s what members of the College of Cardinals say, that he remembers your name, what you said, and he puts it into a synthetic summary so all listeners can understand him. He can come out with half the words I might use but say the same thing!

He’s very professorial, very much a teacher helping a student. He’s brilliant at being a teacher and all of us can learn from him. He’s helpful but never, ever condescending — you could never use that word with this Pope.

It doesn’t matter how many people are in the same room, you are what counts. You have his undivided attention, he inspires great loyalty because of the way he treats you. When he’s one-on-one, he’s never looking over his shoulder; you’re No. 1 for him.

Msgr. Anthony Frontiero

Official, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

As an American priest serving in the Roman Curia, I find Pope Benedict to be a very impressive man. Beyond his brilliance as a scholar and his effectiveness as teacher, I admire his kindness and warmth.

It is becoming more clear to me that the Pope expresses a faith of the heart, particularly when he speaks. Every homily he preaches is engaging, each one more brilliant and touching than the last.

I appreciate also his gentle strength. Pope Benedict is clearly very measured in his approach. This may be a function of his advanced age, but it also speaks of his undying confidence in the Lord.

His is a humble confidence, however. He utterly trusts in what the Lord has done and will do in the future, but he expresses this trust in simple ways and in very human tones.

One of my favorite memories is of a group of young people from the U.S who came to see the Holy Father at a general audience last year. Among their number was a young woman who had never been baptized. At the end of the audience, Pope Benedict, much to their amazement, went along their aisle and shook all of their hands, each one; except for this young woman. Instead, the Holy Father approached her and placed his hand on her head and blessed her, almost as if he had known her story.

That evening, at the farewell dinner, each young person was invited to share their most important moment during their pilgrimage to Rome. She shared that she will never be the same after that encounter, so perhaps he did [know her story].

The Pope has a special charisma, to be sure. He has many titles [but] in and through his person and ministry, Pope Benedict XVI is a man who wants to bring Jesus to others, to everyone.

His life is caught up in Christ. That is what I admire most about him, and why I consider it a rich blessing to be near him.

Mary Ann Glendon

U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See

I had only met Cardinal Ratzinger once, Pope Benedict twice, before I presented my credentials so I have to say my memories and my impressions of the Holy Father come through his writings.

But there are certain authors, when you read their writings, that allow you to develop a kind of friendship with them. You can develop even a friendship with a deceased writer of great books. And so my acquaintance with the Holy Father really comes primarily in that way.

It is a joy and an honor to now get to know him personally. As an academic myself, naturally I am very drawn to the Pope’s thoughts about the synergy between faith and reason. And as a legal academic, a lawyer and a professor, I live in a world where the two are not clearly separate.

So I’m expecting to learn more about the Pope’s idea that pure, calculating rationality without being informed by faith can lead to very dangerous and inhuman consequences, but at the same time, turning the coin over, faith that shuts off the good gifts of the Enlightenment, the good gifts of reason, can easily degenerate into fideism, superstition and even to violence.

Edward Pentin writes from Rome.