Pope Francis on Pope Emeritus: ‘The Wise Grandfather at Home’

Holy Father pays tribute to Pope Emeritus on the eve of a ceremony to celebrate Benedict XVI's 65 years as a priest.

(photo: Joseph Ratzinger-Pope Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation)

At noon tomorrow, Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will make another rare appearance together at a ceremony to celebrate the 65th anniversary of Benedict’s ordination to the priesthood.

During the event, to take place in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father will present Benedict XVI with a book entitled Teaching and Learning the Love of God, a collection of Joseph Ratzinger’s homilies on the priesthood. Also present will be Benedict’s brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger (they were ordained together), and a few senior Vatican officials.

The ceremony will be televised on Vatican television and also streamed live on YouTube here. Due to the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on Wednesday, the event actually takes place a day ahead of the anniversary, which falls on June 29th.

In the preface, Francis wrote that every time he reads the Pope Emeritus’ works, it becomes “increasingly clear that he has done, and is doing, 'theology on its knees'” because before becoming a great theologian “he is a man who truly believes, who truly prays; he is a man who personifies the holiness, a man of peace, a man of God.” He also lauded Benedict for the example he has given to priests.

The Holy Father yesterday further reiterated his admiration for the Pope Emeritus in comments made on the papal plane from Armenia, saying he particularly welcomes the way Benedict protects and encourages him in his Petrine ministry (see video here).

“I’ve been to see him so many times” and also spoken to him on the telephone, he said. “The other day he wrote me a little letter,” he revealed, adding “he wished me well for this trip.” Francis has often said Benedict is like a “wise grandfather at home”, and said yesterday that he “protects” him (“has my back”) through “his prayer.”

“I never forget that speech he made to us cardinals on February 28th: ‘Among you I’m sure is my successor. I promise obedience.’ And he’s done it.” He also said that he’d heard unconfirmed rumors that some people had visited the Pope Emeritus “to complain because of this new Pope,” Francis said.

“He chased them away, eh, in the best Bavarian style — educated — but he chased them away,” the Pope said. “I don’t know if it’s true”, he continued, but said “it’s welcome because this man is like that. He’s a man of his word, an upstanding, upstanding, upstanding man.”

He further reiterated his gratitude for creating the new “institution” of Pope Emeritus and Francis wondered again if “with this lengthening of life” it’s possible to “run a Church at this age, with aches and pains.” By opening this door to a papal resignation, “this is good for the Church,” Francis said.

But in light of the discussion of an “expanded papacy” that includes a contemplative and an active Successor of Peter, he stressed “there is one single Pope” and the predecessors are “emeriti”.

The Pope said at the ceremony tomorrow that he will “say something to this great man of prayer, of the courage that is the Pope Emeritus, not the second Pope, who is faithful to his word and a great man of God, very intelligent, and for me he, the wise grandfather at home.”


Teaching and Learning the Love of God is part of a publishing project consisting of seven volumes on the core themes of Joseph Ratzinger’s thought. This particular volume, with an introduction by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, will be available in Italian bookstores from Tuesday June 28th. Ignatius Press will be publishing an English edition next year. 


In his autobiography Milestones, Joseph Ratzinger recalled the following memory of his ordination: 

“We were more than forty candidates and we all answered Adsum – that is “Here I am". It was a beautiful and unforgettable summer day, the most important moment in my life ... I shouldn’t be superstitious, but while the old archbishop was laying his hands on me, a little bird – maybe a lark – raised from the high altar of the Cathedral and sang a short joyful song; I thought it was a voice from above saying: you are in the right way. The day of the first Mass the church of Saint Oswald was in its splendour and people showed us their joy and involvement. We had been asked to bring the blessing of the first Mass to the town and we were welcomed everywhere. Everybody showed friendliness, even the people we didn’t know at all. I became aware of the expectations men and women have with a priest: they trust in his blessing and the power of the sacrament. It was not because of me or my brother: what did we mean to the people we met? They saw us as the men to whom Christ had given a task, that was to show His presence”.