The Pope is Bavarian, and Bavarians are known by their cities in a way that isn’t seen in America apart from New Yorkers or Bostonians. But Pope Benedict XVI began his life as a man with no hometown — and he remains the same today.
So says Brennan Pursell in his book Benedict of Bavaria (published by the Register’s sister, Circle Press). The Pope was born in Marktl Am Inn but he was never a “Marketer” like others born there.
Joseph Ratzinger’s family moved from the tiny village when he was 2. They lived in several apartments in nearby Bavarian towns as necessitated by his father’s job as a police constable.
Their lives took a dramatic turn for the worse with the rise of the Nazis. The family subscribed to an anti-Nazi publication and moved to a house in Traunstein to be safer during the war. It was to the house at Traunstein that Joseph Ratzinger returned when he deserted from the German army into which he had been conscripted. He has described vividly how sweet it was to return to his mother’s meals at Traunstein after fleeing the army.
Ratzinger might have become a Traunsteiner; this is the place where the family spent more years than in any other one address. But when he became a priest, his vocation quickly took him out of town.
For a long time it seemed that Ratzinger would become a Regensburger.
In 1969, when Father Joseph began teaching at the university, his brother, Father Georg, was directing a famous Regensburg choir. His sister Maria was living in Regensburg as well. His parents visited the city three times a year. Today they are buried there. “Here, I am really at home,” he is quoted saying in Pursell’s book.
The beautiful old European town is culturally rich and has a longstanding academic reputation. It is odd for American audiences to associate the name only with the Pope’s remarks about Islam. The city is like Oxford or Cambridge. For those who know the city, its identity is too deep and expansive to be simply used as shorthand for one speech, however consequential that speech was.
Benedict of Bavaria describes the rhythm of life Joseph Ratzinger kept at Regensburg. Bed at 10 pm., up at 6 a.m. to say morning Mass, regular visits from family.
The Pope kept up a similar schedule as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, where he lived in an apartment near the Vatican. In Vatican City he keeps up the same sort of schedule today.
And so Benedict’s hometown might be Rome, where, as the Holy Father, he is expected to live until he dies.
There, as his brother describes in his exclusive interview with the Register this week , the Holy Father keeps the same kind of schedule as Pope that he has through much of his life.
Msgr. Georg Ratzinger shared a few reminiscences with the Register on the eve of the Pope’s visit to America. He also answered many questions about what it’s like to visit Pope Benedict XVI now.
“Usually we celebrate Mass together in the morning,” he said. “After the Mass there is silent thanksgiving. And then he reads the breviary to me; because of my eye problems, I cannot read the breviary anymore.”
The two have breakfast together, then must go their separate ways to meet again for lunch and a short walk. Later they meet for afternoon Rosary, dinner and to watch the news.
Msgr. Ratzinger says not much was changed between them now that his brother is Pope. “My brother was already 78 years old when he was elected Pope. Our personal relationship had already lasted 78 years by then,” he said. “So, fundamentally, nothing changes with regard to that.”
But as comfortable and at home as Pope Benedict is in Rome, that’s not his hometown either. The papal coat or arms features a symbol indicating that Benedict is conscious that he is a visitor in Rome, still.
The bear wearing the backpack is a visual reference to the story of a Bavarian saint who ordered a bear to carry his load to Rome. In his 1997 autobiography, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “I have carried my pack to Rome and wander for some time now through the streets of the Eternal City. When release will come I cannot know. What I do know is that I am God’s pack animal, and, as such, close to him.”
That might give the best indication where the Pope’s hometown is; it is much like Christ’s.
Jesus’ hometown was the subject of some discussion in the Gospel. When the first disciples come to inquire about him, they don’t ask “Who are you?” but “Where do you live?” His reply: “Come and see.” Of course, he was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth after a sojourn to Egypt. But to describe where he lives to other disciples, he says: “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”
As Jesus pointed out to Peter in John 21:18, popes in particular share Christ’s way of life with no hometown: “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
That’s not to say that the Holy Father is unhappy. The sunny smile on his face when he visits people is enough to dispel that notion.
What it means is that the Pope is neither a Marketer, Traunsteiner, Regensburger nor a Roman. He’s the Pope. He’s always at home among those who call him Holy Father and will ultimately never be at home until he stands where he tells us Pope John Paul II went: in the Father’s house.