VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Thursday praised the role of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and his theology for the Church.
Speaking at the 2022 Ratzinger Prize award ceremony at the Vatican, Pope Francis said: “We all feel his spiritual presence and his accompaniment in prayer for the whole Church.”
”But this occasion is important to reaffirm that the contribution of his theological work and, more generally, of his thought continues to be fruitful and effective.”
The Ratzinger Prize was launched in 2011 to recognize scholars whose work demonstrates a meaningful contribution to theology in the spirit of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Bavarian theologian who became Pope Benedict XVI.
This year, the prestigious award was given to Jesuit Father Michel Fédou and Professor Joseph H.H. Weiler.
Pope Francis said: “As we know, Benedict XVI personally participated in it as an expert and played an important role in the genesis of some documents; and then he was called to lead the ecclesial community in its implementation, both alongside St. John Paul II and as pastor of the universal Church.”
Benedict “helped us to read the conciliar documents in depth, proposing a ‘hermeneutic of reform and continuity,’‘’ he said.
His predecessor from Bavaria, the pontiff added, had provided “a solid theological basis for the Church’s journey: a ‘living’ Church, which he taught us to see and live as communion, and which is on the move in ’synod’ — guided by the Spirit of the Lord, always open to the mission of proclaiming the Gospel and serving the world in which it lives.”
The Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Foundation announced Oct. 7 that Father Fédou and would receive the prize from Pope Francis.
Father Fédou has been teaching dogmatic theology and patristics at Centre Sèvres, a Jesuit institution in Paris, since 1987. He is a member of several theological organizations and commissions regarding ecumenical dialogue with Lutherans and Orthodox Christians, according to a Vatican communiqué.
The 69-year-old native of Lyon, France, is the author of several works, mainly about patristics and Christology.
In him, Pope Francis said, ”we recognize and pay tribute to a valiant heir and continuer of the great tradition of French theology, which has given the Church masters of the stature of Father Henri De Lubac and solid and courageous cultural enterprises such as the Sources Chrétiennes, whose publication began 80 years ago.”
Famous for his role in defense of the display of crucifixes in public schools before the European Court of Human Rights, Weiler is a legal scholar at many universities in the U.S. and the U.K., including at Harvard and New York University, as well as in other places.
The 71-year-old native of Johannesburg, South Africa, was the president of the European University Institute of Florence and is the author of many works about constitutional and international law as well as human rights.
In his book A Christian Europe: An Exploratory Essay, the scholar coined the term Christophobia, a phenomenon papal biographer George Weigel has written about extensively.
Noting that Weiler is the first adherent of the Jewish faith to be awarded the prestigious Ratzinger prize, Pope Francis noted an objective of Benedict‘s ”personal theological work had been from the beginning the sharing and promotion of all the steps of reconciliation between Christians and Jews taken since the Council.”
Last year’s winners of the Ratzinger Prize were Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz and Ludger Schwienhorst-Schönberger.
Candidates for the prize are chosen by the scientific committee of the Ratzinger Foundation and presented to the Pope, who approves the winners.
The Ratzinger Prize has been awarded yearly since 2011 to two or three scholars. The scientific committee members are appointed by the pope.
Members until recently have been Cardinals Angelo Amato, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints; Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture; and Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany. President of Pope Benedict XVI Institute Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella stood in for Cardinal Amato.