Papa Ratzinger

The “Pope Emeritus,” ill, aged, and feeble, has now died. This closes the year as it closes his era: for this pope remained the living symbol of continuity through the years of his retirement. By some, he will be remembered as alive.

Papa Ratzinger faced a Church, and a Catholic congregation, many parts of which showed “signs of age,” and had fallen into desuetude and disability. This was true even when he wrote, more than fifty years ago, that in future the Church would be contracted. He had no illusions about the reality, in which the media, artificial intelligence and technology, had displaced the Fathers as interpreters of the Word. Notwithstanding, he took on “the overriding priority” with which Christ had endowed the papacy, from its beginnings. He brought strength and direction to the faithful — remaining and reclaimed — who turned to him as they turned to Christ, whose love could not be hidden by encroaching human blindness.

He died on the nineteenth anniversary of my own reception into the Catholic Church; for I am among those reclaimed by hope. Papa Ratzinger had been, through most of my adult life, a singular hero. I had long before his elevation come to regard him as our best mind in Christendom. I read all of his writings as they appeared, and subscribed to Communio. I was elated — staggered — when he was elected to replace Saint John Paul II.

The Italian prime minister, Mrs Giorgia Meloni, who often ignores the rules of political theatre, is the one world leader who used the future tense in remarks on the departed pontiff:

“He will continue to speak to the hearts and minds of men with the spiritual, cultural, and intellectual depth of his Magisterium.”