Fr. Stephen Doktorczyk
Current assignment: Official Of The Congregation For The Doctrine Of The Faith
A group of us arrived at 9 a.m. forPope Benedict XVI’s final Wednesday audience on 27 February 2013. Already the piazza was fairly full, even though the audience was not scheduled to begin until 10:30 a.m. From where I was sitting, I had a very good view of those in the piazza and was not far from where the pope would sit. Some people were holding up signs of support. One said,”Reelect Pope Benedict.” Other banners indicated the affection different people and groups wanted to express to the outgoing pope.
After having made his rounds in the popemobile, Pope Benedict took his place at the chair. He semed moved and perhaps pleasantly surprised that the crowd was so large. In fact, heeven mentioned this at the beginning of his address. Iwanted to listen carefully to the Pontiff, knowing this would be the last opportunity to listen to him.What struck me is that he spoke from his heart. Yes,he read his address, but it wasvery clear that he prayed before preparing the text. There were many interruptions of applause.
He said that the Lord has guided him, that there were moments of joy and light, but also difficult moments. He said that his “heart is filled with gratitude to God because He has never left me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.” When he shared that he had received many tokens of affection, friendship and prayer, he added that these came from people from all walks of life. I was happy to hear that that many ordinary people write to him with the sense of a very affectionate family tie; that is, as a brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters.They write simply from their heart. It was evident how much he appreciates this support and the prayers people offer for him.
If his intent was to deliver a message of hope, he succeeded in doing just that.
While I felt privileged being present for such an historic event, there was (and is) also sadness. I remember the great joy I and countless others experienced on 19 April 2005 when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected. Of course, a pope’s work is never finished, but along with many others, I had hoped he would serve as Successor to St Peter for at least another few years. The Lord, according to Pope Benedict, had other plans, and was asking him to step aside. I recall how often the pope emphasizes the primacy of prayer. Our day must begin with prayer, and we are to allow the Lord to guide our lives. And that’s exactly what he did in making his decision to step back from the exercise of the Petrine ministry.
That day, I experienced a combination of hope and joy, knowing that after have given his entire adult life to the Church, the pope can now retire to a life of solitary prayer. But I would not be honest if I did not share that it was an emotional time for many of us.
We should all be comforted by his closing words: “Dear friends! God guides His Church, he sustains her always, and especially in difficult times. Let us never lose this vision of faith, which is the only true vision of the Church and the world. In our heart, in the heart of each of you, may there always be the joyous certainty that the Lord is near us, he does not abandon us, he is near us and surrounds us with his love.”