Pope Benedict Says He Is Not 'Abandoning the Church'

During his last Sunday Angelus, Benedict XVI speaks of nearness and dedication to the Church in prayer after retirement.

The crowd in St. Peter's Square during Pope Benedict XVI's Angelus address Feb. 17, 2013.
The crowd in St. Peter's Square during Pope Benedict XVI's Angelus address Feb. 17, 2013. (photo: Stephen Driscoll/CNA)

VATICAN — Around 120,000 pilgrims heard Pope Benedict XVI deliver his last Angelus address in which he said that “the Lord called me to ‘climb the mountain,’ to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation,” a change that does not mean he is “abandoning the Church.”

“Dear brothers and sisters,” the Pope said as he dwelt on the Sunday Gospel on the Transfiguration, “the word of God feels particularly directed at me, at this point in my life. The Lord called me to ‘climb the mountain,’ to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation.”

“But this does not mean abandoning the Church,” he qualified. “Indeed, if God asks me this it is just so that I can continue to serve with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done so far, but in a way more suited to my age and for me.”

The Pope will be both physically and spiritually “climbing the mountain,” since the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery where he will retire sits on the highest point in Vatican City, with a view of the back of St. Peter’s Basilica and the rest of Rome.

When he mentioned how the Gospel felt directed at him, the crowd reacted with applause that echoed through an overflowing St. Peter’s Square.

In his reflections on the Transfiguration in Luke’s Gospel, Pope Benedict described the encounter as “a profound experience of relationship with the Father during a sort of spiritual retreat that Jesus lives on a high mountain in the company of Peter, James and John, the three disciples always present in moments of divine manifestation of the Master.”

“The Lord, who shortly before had foretold his death and resurrection, offers his disciples an anticipation of his glory,” he noted.

The Pope then explained the significance of Peter’s comment: “The intervention of Peter: ‘Master, it is good for us to be here,’ represents the impossible attempt to stop this mystical experience.”

Pope Benedict underscored that meditating on this passage yields “a very important teaching.”

“First, the primacy of prayer, without which all the work of the apostolate and of charity is reduced to activism. In Lent, we learn to give proper time to prayer, both personal and communal, which gives breath to our spiritual life,” he said.

He also added a second point that was particularly fitting for his future life of prayer.

“In addition, prayer is not to isolate themselves from the world and its contradictions ... but the prayer back to the path, to the action. ‘The Christian life,’ I wrote in my 'Message for Lent,' ‘consists of a continuous climb up the mountain to meet God, before falling back, bringing the love and the power derived from it, in order to serve our brothers and sisters with the same love of God.’”

Benedict XVI finished his pre-Angelus remarks by invoking the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who “always helps us all to follow the Lord Jesus in prayer and works of charity.”

As he offered greetings in various languages to the throng of pilgrims, each group showed their support by applauding Pope Benedict, with the loudest being the Italians.