A Surprise Personal Meeting With Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
The Pope Emeritus once asked to be called “Father Benedict” in one of his interviews, but he was more like a kind grandfather.
This article originally appeared April 26, 2017, at the Register.
To have Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI hold your hand and thank you, and describe your vestments as “wonderful, beautiful,” is something I never dreamed could happen 18 months ago when I started my vestments business — Di Clara.
With my husband recovering from long term illness and unable to work, I knew I had to do something to provide our family with some income. And with three young children, I knew the only viable option was to work from home.
Running a small business from home wasn’t a new thing for me. I had experience of working from home before with my wedding cake business that I was forced to close due to the change in the marriage laws. And after a priest friend suggest I “have a go at making some vestments” I realized that there was a huge gap in the market for good quality, affordable vestments that brought beauty and reverence to the liturgy.
Like Father Benedict, I too believe that beauty is a highly important and spiritual thing in the liturgy:
Beauty, then, is not mere decoration, but rather an essential element of the liturgical action, since it is an attribute of God himself and his revelation. These considerations should make us realize the care which is needed, if the liturgical action is to reflect its innate splendour.
Beauty is something that draws us out of ourselves into an encounter with the transcendent. C.S. Lewis gets to the heart of the matter when he says that “created beauty provokes in us a longing to be united with, to receive into ourselves, and to enter into that infinite Beauty of which all created beauty is but a reflection.”
It was my aim with this 90th birthday set of vestments to surpass anything I have ever made previously. For the design of the embroidery, I was inspired by one of Father Benedict’s favourite Marian shrines — Our Lady of Altötting. On her dress you can see a sunflower, edelweiss and vines. I managed to incorporate these into my own design.
The design was then embellished with fresh water pearls and garnet. At the base of the back of the chasuble I embroidered his papal coat of arms. I can hear you asking: how did you manage to present the vestments to Benedict himself, and at such a short notice? That’s where my friend Alessandra Dee Crespo comes in.
She is Maltese and a known admirer of Benedict. In fact, I remember asking her for suggestions on what design to use and she immediately came back with Our Lady of Altötting. She runs a very successful Benedict Facebook page. In fact, when she saw my post on crowdfunding the vestments, she got in touch and offered to advertise the project among her thousands of followers on her page. She then asked the inevitable question. How are you going to give it him? When I told her ‘by post’ she was horrified and offered to get me an appointment — which she did in record time.
The full set includes a Roman-style chasuble, spade end stole and maniple, chalice veil, burse and pall.
Approaching Pope Emeritus was one of the most surreal moments of my life. When greeting him we each knelt and kissed his hand and ring. There was nothing but joy and love in his eyes. He kept insisting on holding our hands as he spoke to us which just confirmed his kind and gentle nature.
Archbishop Georg Gänswein was very friendly and accommodating and did everything he could to put us at ease and help the meeting to run smoothly. I noticed how he anticipated every need of Father Benedict and was always one step ahead of what was required. He seemed to be a truly humble servant of God who obviously adores Father Benedict.
When I took out the chasuble from the suit bag and wished him a Happy 90th Birthday, Benedict’s face shone. When Archbishop Georg Gänswein saw it, he exclaimed “Altötting!” I explained the design and Benedict particularly loved the edelweiss motif. I then told him about the most important bit about the chasuble. I showed him the list of the donors embroidered in the lining and read out the inscription inside. We all know that Benedict is a man of a few words so when he saw the names of the people who donated on the lining in the chasuble, he (obviously moved) blushed and said in a soft voice: “Thank you, thank you.”
It was an absolute honour to be able to make this set and then present it to Father Benedict on the anniversary of his papal inauguration. He is one of my personal heroes, as he is for so many of us. I was also honored to bring along my 10-year-old son — something he will remember for the rest of his life. True to his knack of making people feel at ease, Benedict spoke to Alex with disarming guilelessness and in no time, both of them starting talking about cats.
It is traditional when you have a private audience with a pope to bring along a zuchetto (the white skull cap). The pope will then take the zuchetto you have brought along and wear it for a time. It will then be delivered back to you with an inscription stating that this zuchetto has been worn by a particular pope. My son was in charge of this duty and Father Benedict was more than happy to oblige!
The Pope Emeritus asked to be called “Father Benedict” in one of his interviews, but when speaking to Alex, he was more like a kind grandfather.
One thing that was foremost on my mind was to talk to Father Benedict about was my very recent formal entry into the Discalced Secular Carmelites (Third Order). I wore my ceremonial brown scapular and told him my Carmelite name, Magdalene of the Resurrection. He was delighted I had taken that step, and really was interested in everything we had to say.
Alessandra and I both chose to wear mantillas out of respect and also because they too are just extremely beautiful — something different from ordinary life, something reverent. So many women want to veil and it just takes one person in a parish to have the courage to be the first one. I wanted to offer mantillas to my customers as they too, in their own way, bring beauty and reverence to the liturgy. What is happening on the outside is simply a reflection of what is happening on the inside.
Certainly all of our communities could stand to reflect more deeply on what we are doing to make the liturgy, and our faith life, something that draws us out of ourselves into an encounter with the transcendent.
The fact that an invitation to meet with Father Benedict was issued almost immediately was, in my opinion, all down to Our Lady. The Carmelite order is the order of Our Lady and everything I have and do, including all my talents and my business, have been consecrated to her. The vestment set – although it is not blue – is still a Marian set, and as we knelt to be blessed by Pope Emeritus at the end of the meeting, I could only thank our Blessed Mother for her intercession in all of this.