VATICAN CITY — On Tuesday, Benedict XVI gave his first public speech since his final day as pope, expressing gratitude for a lengthy priesthood and for Pope Francis’ “goodness,” which he said moves him deeply.
Speaking to Pope Francis and the College of Cardinals gathered inside the Vatican’s small Clementine Hall for the 65th anniversary of his priestly ordination, Benedict said the Greek word Efkaristomen (“Let us give thanks”) expresses “all that there is to say” for the occasion.
“Thank you, thank you, everyone! Thank you Holy Father — your goodness, from the first day of your election, every day of my life here, moves me interiorly, brings me inwardly more than the Vatican Gardens.”
“Your goodness is a place in which I feel protected,” he said, and he voiced his hope that Francis would be able to “move forward with all of us on this path of Divine Mercy, showing Jesus’ path to God.”
Since his resignation from the papacy in 2013, Benedict XVI has made only a handful of public appearances, none of which he spoke at. The celebration inside the Vatican Palace, then, marks not only another rare public appearance, but also the first time he has spoken in public since his resignation on Feb. 28, 2013.
The June 28 celebration was held for Benedict in honor of the 65th anniversary of his ordination as a priest, which took place June 29, 1951, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, in the cathedral of Freising. His older brother Georg, who is still living today and was present for the ceremony, was ordained with him.
After the choir singing sacred polyphony finished, Benedict listened to brief speeches made by Pope Francis; Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals; and Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Cardinal Müller gifted Benedict with several copies of a book containing his homilies on the priesthood printed specifically for the occasion of his anniversary. Benedict, in turn, gave one to Pope Francis.
In his brief, off-the-cuff speech, Benedict thanked both Cardinal Sodano and Cardinal Müller for their speeches and for the book.
He told Cardinal Sodano that his address, which quoted Scripture from the day of Benedict’s ordination and his speech during his visit to Freising in 2006, “truly touched my heart.”
Benedict then returned to the word Efkaristomen, which he recalled a fellow priest ordained on the same day had written on the memorial card for his first Mass.
This word, he said, hints not only at “the dimensions of human thanksgiving,” but also “the deepest word that is hidden,” and which appears in both the liturgy and Scripture in the expression gratias agens benedixit fregit deditque, meaning “Having given thanks, he broke it and gave it.”
“Efkaristomen sends us again to that reality of thanksgiving, to that new dimension that Christ has given,” Benedict said, explaining that Jesus has transformed into thanksgiving “the cross, suffering and all of the evil in the world.”
In doing so, Jesus “fundamentally transubstantiated” life and the world, he said, adding that the Lord has given and continues to give us daily “the Bread of true life, which overcomes the world, thanks to the strength of his love.”
Benedict closed his address by expressing his hope that all would, with the help of God, help in the “transubstantiation of the world: that it be a world not of death, but of life; a world in which love has overcome death.”
In his brief speech, Pope Francis told Benedict, “You continue to serve the Church; you do not cease to really contribute with vigor and wisdom to her growth.”
By contributing to the Church and her mission from the small monastery of Mater Ecclesiae inside the Vatican, Benedict represents “anything but these forgotten corners in which today’s culture of waste tends to relegate people when, with age, their strength becomes less,” Francis said.
He prayed that the retired pope would continue to feel the hand of “the merciful God, who supports you,” that he would continue to both experience and bear witness to the love of God, and that, alongside Peter and Paul, he would “continue to exult with great joy while walking toward the goal of our faith.”