Following the news that the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, will resign on 28 February 2013 Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor gave this morning’s ‘Thought for the Day’ on BBC Radio 4.
The thought has just struck me. The only Pope who has been on Thought for the Day is Pope Benedict in December 2010 – a testimony to how much he has embraced the modern world of communication. Among the many times that I have met him, there are three that stand out in my memory. First when he was Cardinal Ratzinger. Pope John Paul, during his visit to Britain in 1982, invited Anglican and Free Church leaders to pay a return visit to Rome. I went with them and the person they all wanted to see was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the formidable theologian and defender of the faith. He met us in his office with great courtesy and then asked the six leaders if they had any questions they wanted to put to him. Did they just! The first question was from the then Archbishop of York, John Hapgood, and instead of answering it immediately, the Cardinal invited the others to ask their questions, which they did, and they were very difficult ones. He answered all their questions with lucidity, intelligence and honesty. I remember thinking to myself -this is a quite remarkable man and a great gift to the Church.
The second occasion was Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain in September 2010. How well I remember the very gracious greeting of the Queen and Prince Philip at Holyrood. I accompanied him the whole time, and was delighted that he came over to the people of our country not as remote or reserved but quite simply as a good shepherd, a deeply human person who cared for everyone. It was very moving.
The third occasion was when the Pope kindly invited Archbishop Rowan Williams and myself to lunch in his private apartment. Half way through the meal, as we were chatting over the table, I asked Pope Benedict how his book about Jesus was coming along. His face lit up about his writing and how difficult it was to find time to do all the study and reflection that was needed. It was then it occurred to me what a great sacrifice Pope Benedict had made in 2005, in assuming the office of the Papacy, with all its great burdens and its challenges -and there have been many. I’m sure he would have wanted to have retired as a cardinal and to devote the remainder of his life to study, prayer and reflection. But as the will of the Lord, he accepted the office and has carried it out with great fidelity, generosity and love. No-one should now begrudge him the rest and tranquillity that he has longed for. Instead we should give thanks to God for his humble and courageous ministry.