“I’m very much looking forward to my vacation in Brixen,” said Pope Benedict XVI, smiling broadly. The Pope was speaking in June to a visitor from northern Italy, looking ahead to his summer break in the town in northeastern Italy.
In many ways, his July 28-Aug. 11 vacation will be a homecoming. After three years spending his holidays in other parts of mountainous northern Italy, the Holy Father will again be relaxing in the mountains but this time returning to the place he used to visit almost every year.
From 1968 onwards, Joseph Ratzinger regularly spent his summers in Brixen, always with his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, and his late sister, Maria. The town is twinned with the Bavarian town of Regensburg, where the Pope taught as a university professor and where his brother still lives.
This year, Benedict will be lodging at Brixen’s Major Seminary, the same place he used to stay and offer the occasional lecture.
“Since 1978, he used to come every three years to this house,” said Thomas Stürz, diocesan coordinator for the visit. “He knows the building and its inhabitants very well, also Brixen and the surrounding area, so he will certainly feel very happy here.”
At the moment, the building houses 15 seminarians, soon to be outnumbered by an estimated 120 security personnel. Stürz said the Pope has always treasured the seminary’s “great theological library.”
And, he added, “Of course, there is a piano for the Pope in the house.”
Brixen is located in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of northern Italy, close to the Austrian border. Nestled in a picturesque South Tyrolean valley and surrounded by the jagged and stunning Dolomite mountains, the town is a fascinating fusion of Austro-Italian culture.
Although it is known to the Italians as Bressanone, 75% of the community’s 20,000 citizens are mother-tongue German speakers who refer to it by its German name.
Alto Adige’s Germanic heritage goes back to 1815 when it was annexed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After the First World War, it was formally given to Italy, although it still retains a certain amount of autonomy.
It’s not clear why, as Pope, Benedict chose other places to vacation the past three years instead of his favorite holiday destination. However, reports say he didn’t want to return to Lorenzo di Cadore, the northern Italian town where he stayed last year, because doctors advised its high altitude wasn’t good for his heart.
The citizens of Brixen are excited at the prospect of the Pope returning to the town.
“In south Tyrol, and especially in Brixen, one completely feels a great honor that the Pope is again returning to this city,” said Stürz. “Everywhere, there is great joy at his decision.”
Stürz said the townspeople are “striving to give him a dignified welcome and to give him what he seeks: rest and recuperation.”
Between 1968 and 1976, Joseph Ratzinger and his siblings stayed in the Green Tree hotel in the town.
Today’s proprietor, Brigitte Saldner, is hoping the Pope will make a return visit, and enjoy what was his favorite dish: mountain cranberries and dumplings.
“We simply want to give the Pope a very warm welcome and convey a feeling of hospitality to the Pope,” said Saldner. “We must, as much as possible, keep at a comfortable distance, because he wants to have a holiday here.”
The Holy Father will make two public appearances during his vacation, on Aug. 3 and Aug. 10, when he will recite the Angelus in front of the town’s cathedral.
Aside from those commitments, it’s not clear what excursions the Holy Father will take. Stürz said the papal visit has been organized to make it as much of a restful vacation as possible, with excursions available if he wants them.
If not, in addition to its extensive library, the seminary also has a large garden in which to stroll.
Path of Reflection
Also in the town is an interesting walk that is very much in line with the Holy Father’s focus on Europe’s Christian heritage. Created in 1993, the “European Path of Reflection” passes through woods and rich green meadows and is described as the way of the Risen Christ.
Stops along the way honor 23 European saints from 18 countries, and eight “reflection points” comprise quotations and words of wisdom from the Bible and the saints. Each relates to Mary, Europe, evangelization, justice and peace, the preservation of creation, charity, and the family.
Because of the wide variety of European languages, the writings are always given in Latin, and the way ends at an ancient church dedicated to St. Cyril.
Organizers cannot yet confirm whether the Pope will walk the route. But what can be predicted is that, as with the Holy Father’s previous vacations, much of his time is likely to be dedicated to studying and writing.
Many papal observers speculate that Benedict will work on his third encyclical, which Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, recently said might be titled Caritas in Veritate (Charity in the Truth), as well as the second segment of his book Jesus of Nazareth.
Edward Pentin writes