Displaying German punctuality, Pope Benedict XVI entered Paul VI Hall Oct. 20 at 6 p.m., as scheduled. Waiting for him were 7,000 people, ready to enjoy an evening of splendid Bavarian musicianship.
Only a few of us could stand alongside the hall's main corridor to greet and touch the Pope. I saw three college students — Elisabeth from France, Paola from Mexico, and Verónica from Venezuela — silently weeping after they shook hands with the Holy Father.
The Pope looked happy and at ease. Together with the bishops participating in the Synod on the Eucharist, we were attending a concert in his honor given by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra.
For Benedict it was, undoubtedly, a welcome break from his intense agenda. He loves classical music.
The concert began with two pieces from the Mass — a Kyrie (Lord, Have Mercy), composed by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, and a Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) by Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, the Pope's brother, who sat next to him in the middle of the hall.
An eight-voice song by Mendelssohn was interpreted by the renowned Regensburger Domspatzen — the oldest cathedral choir in the world, founded by bishop Wolfgang in 975 and led by Msgr. Ratzinger for 30 years.
Then came Mozart's famous Ave verum corpus (Hail, True Body) and Franz Liszt's Tu es Petrus (You Are Peter).
The black color of the suits and dresses of the men and women of the orchestra and the Athestis Choir stood out beautifully against the purple color of the stage.
The musicians were masterfully conducted by Director Christian Thielemann in the last three pieces of the program: selections of Hans Pftizner's Palestrina, Giuseppe Verdi's Te Deum and Richard Wagner's Tannhäusser.
Simple and Sweet
Characteristically, the eight pieces inspired calm, serenity, recollection and awe. The voices and musical sounds formed like a mellifluous, peaceful stream of artistic and prayerful contemplation.
Maybe the German performers knew some of the Pope's favorite compositions. The music certainly matched Benedict's meek, humble, simple, sweet character.
I thought the music matched God's style, too. God likes best to reveal himself in a sweet breeze rather than in a great wind, an earthquake or a fire (see 1 Kings 19:11-12).
Behind the orchestra and the choir stood the large and lively statue of the risen Christ with its mystifying show of bluish lights and shadows. The all-powerful Son of God likes to be hidden in the simple species of bread and wine, so as to inspire love, not fear.
“With this concert,” Benedict said in his final remarks in German, “we have experienced how high-class music purifies us and elevates us, making us feel the greatness and beauty of God.”
The Pope then greeted the organizers of the concert as well as the directors of the orchestra and choirs. He told Thielemann that he particularly enjoyed one of the pieces from Pftizner's Palestrina, and so the director took the initiative to perform it again for all of us.
“May the harmony of singing and music, that disregards social and religious barriers, be a constant invitation for believers and people of good will,” said the Holy Father, “so as to seek together for the universal language of love, that enables men to build a world of justice and solidarity, of hope and peace.”
Legionary Father Alfonso
Aguilar teaches philosophy at Rome's Regina