It is said Pope Benedict possesses one of the greatest theological minds the Church has seen in a long time.
However, his humility, simplicity and gentle character affected not only celebrated figures within and without the Church, but millions of regular churchgoing Catholics who remain touched by his legacy.
What do they remember most about him?
How did his papacy affect them?
John Herrick, a parishioner at St. Ann Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., was struck by how the portrayal of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger by the secular press as being "tough and mean" didn’t fit when we saw Pope Benedict on television.
"He appeared a mild-mannered and very warm person, which surprised a lot of us," given the negative portrait painted by the mainstream media, Herrick said.
"What I remember most is the vibrant joy when he was elected and when he came to New York," said Father Luke Sweeney, vice rector of the Cathedral Seminary House of Formation for the New York Archdiocese in Douglaston, N.Y.
After experiencing the long pontificate of Blessed John Paul II and watching him "go from being a vibrant young man to heroically embracing his suffering, we have seen Pope Benedict go through that in a very short time," said Father Sweeney. "Benedict had a vibrancy that a number of people knew but the world didn’t realize."
The Holy Father’s homilies, encyclicals and letters also will leave a lasting effect.
Father Sweeney explained, "Over the years, for the few I’ve had a chance to listen to in person, I’ve always said I could sit and listen to him all day long — all week long. What he says is so nourishing to my faith.
"It excites me about being a disciple of Jesus Christ and being a priest and sharing that with others."
‘In Good Hands’
Sister Mary Johanna Paruch of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George met Cardinal Ratzinger when she attended an international catechetical congress in Rome.
"He was standing by himself," Sister Mary Johanna recalled vividly, "and my friend, a priest, said we should go talk to him."
She was hesitant, but her priest friend kept encouraging her to meet the cardinal.
She described how she was immediately taken by his eyes: "They were so kind and loving. When he became pope, my sisters said I screamed because I was so happy. I still remember looking into those eyes, and I knew he was with Christ. The Church was in good hands, and I knew we would be fine."
Benedict’s papacy has tremendously affected Sister Mary Johanna in her work as a professor of catechetics at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
"He was very catechetical," she said. "His interest is in handing on the faith." She well remembers an earlier speech he had given about the transmission of faith, the difficulties of the Second Vatican Council and why he was very consistent in handing down the faith.
She explained that he has an incredible theological mind, yet in his writings "he made it very simple so it could be accessible to all people, not just theologians. I was very grateful for that. It was a very loving act from a very loving man."
Sister Mary Johanna was also especially moved by Benedict’s last Lenten letter because "he says the greatest act of charity is evangelization. As someone who specializes in evangelization and catechesis, I was thrilled by that. We were validated in our work. Knowing that evangelization is a sublime act of charity is really wonderful."
Donum Vitae’s Effect
Steven Bozza also thinks that Benedict’s legacy precedes his papacy. It has had a major effect on Bozza’s own life and work as director of the Office for Life, Family and Laity in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
While doing marriage and family ministry in another diocese, he was already working from Cardinal Ratzinger’s documents when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
"One of the documents, particularly, was Donum Vitae (Respect for Human Life)," Bozza said of the document that was promulgated on the feast of the Chair of St. Peter.
"It has everything to say to me in marriage and family life, particularly in helping couples to succeed," said Bozza. "What really affected my work was his other work, too: Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love). I was struck by his historical context of love — eros, agape — and I’ve often used in my work his understanding of eros and not what we made it to be as human beings. … He took agape and said that agape matures erotic love — most wonderful — and Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope) made an impression, too. I often thought that hope is that necessary catalyst for faith."
Bozza has a special personal memory of Benedict.
On occasion, he traveled to Rome and always arrived on Sunday for the 11am Mass at Santa Anna Church in Vatican City. Then he went to the piazza and waited for Benedict’s Angelus.
"I’ve heard him speak at his window and seen the crowds and the love the people had for him internationally," Bozza emphasized. "In my trips to Rome, I will always remember my Sunday Angelus times. That will always be with me."
Emphasis on Liturgy
Father Bailey Clemens, the pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Portland, Ore., focused on the way Benedict put great emphasis on the liturgy.
"Through reverence and the beauty of the Mass, people are able to grow in faith," said Father Clemens, "and so I really think his emphasis of the liturgy is a great legacy of his, and I hope there will be a continuing effort to fulfill his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (Of the Supreme Pontiffs)."
So much is memorable about Benedict for Father Clemens, from the emphasis on the Year for Priests to the beauty of this Year of Faith.
Father Clemens also admires the Holy Father for "his courageous speaking forth on moral issues and topics that many are not addressing in the Church. Benedict was very much leading us to the truth. I think he was a bold voice crying out from the Chair of Peter."
Kevin and Ann McGlynn in Tallahassee, Fla., were greatly affected when they saw Pope Benedict on his historic 2008 voyage to the United States.
Ann McGlynn was excited to drive to Washington with two of their daughters to see the Pope and be among those in Washington Nationals Stadium for his Mass and homily.
"It was so exciting. You felt the holiness when he came by, and it was very moving," she remembers vividly. "You saw you were in the presence of a very special person. He had a very powerful presence."
The McGlynns knew he was a brilliant theologian, but they also sensed that he has the heart of a child.
"You wanted to hug him," Ann said. "It came from such humility and love and peace."
Then came a deep insight that affects her to this day.
As Ann explained: "You were so assured that we, the Church, were in good shape, with that assurance of knowing he defended the truth of the Church and defended marriage all along; you knew the Church was in the arms of a loving, brilliant and unfaltering father who was holy and humble and loving. We have a lot to be grateful for."
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