VATICAN – Pope Benedict XVI is nearing the end of his papacy. The soon to be Pope Emeritus has spent the morning greeting and saying his final words to the College of Cardinals. At 11:00am in the Clementine Hall, Benedict XVI greeted the College of Cardinals, whose dean, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, addressed a short farewell to the Pope on behalf of all those present.
Pope Benedict XVI
“It is with great emotion,” said Cardinal Angelo Sonan0, “That the Cardinal Fathers present in Rome gather around you today, to once again express to you their deep affection and heartfelt gratitude for your selfless witness of apostolic service, for the good of Christ’s Church and of all humanity.”
The cardinal recalled the words that, last Saturday at the end of the Lenten Retreat, the Pope addressed to his collaborators in the Roman Curia: “I would like to thank all of you and not only for this week, but for these past eight years that you have borne with me—with great skill, affection, love, and faith—the weight of the Petrine ministry.”
“Beloved and revered Successor of Peter,” the cardinal exclaimed, “we are the ones who must thank you for the example you have given us in these eight years of your Pontificate. On 19 April, 2005, you joined the long line of successors of the Apostle Peter and today, 28 February, 2013, you are about to leave us, awaiting that the helm of Peter’s Barque be transferred to other hands. Thus the apostolic succession, which the Lord promised to His Holy Church, will continue until the voice of the Angel of the Apocalypse is heard on earth, proclaiming ‘Tempus non erit amplius … consummabitur mysterium Dei’ ‘There shall be no more delay. … The mysterious plan of God shall be fulfilled!’ Thus will end the history of the Church, together with the history of the world, with the coming of a new heaven and a new earth.”
The dean of the College of Cardinals emphasized the “deep love” with which the cardinals have tried to accompany the Pope in his journey, and how the journey was a “reliving of the experience of the disciples of Emmaus who, after walking with Jesus for a good stretch of road, said to one another: ‘Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way?’”
“Yes, Holy Father, know that our hearts were also burning when we were walking with you in these past eight years. Today we want to once again express to you our gratitude. We repeat together a typical expression of your dear native land: ‘Vergelt’s Gott’, may God reward you!”
For his part, the Holy Father addressed the cardinals, returning to the reference of the disciples’ experience on the way to Emmaus, saying: “For me as well, it has been a joy walking with you these past eight years in the light of the Risen Lord’s presence. As I said yesterday, in front of the thousands of faithful who filled St. Peter’s Square, your nearness and your advice have been a great help to me in my ministry. In these eight years we have faithfully lived beautiful moments of radiant light along the Church’s journey along with times when clouds gathered in the skies. We have tried to serve Christ and His Church with a deep and total love, which is the soul of our ministry. We have given the hope that comes to us from Christ and that alone can light the way. Together we can thank the Lord, who has made us to grow in communion. Together we can ask Him to help you grow more in this deep unity, so that the College of Cardinals might be like an orchestra, where diversity, the expression of the universal Church, always contributes to greater and concordant harmony.”
He added: “I would like to leave you with a simple thought that is close to my heart: a thought regarding the Church and her mystery, which constitutes for all us, we can say, the reason and the passion of life. I will rely for help on an expression by Romano Guardini, written in the same year when the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council approved the Constitution ‘Lumen Gentium’. It is from his final book, which he also personally dedicated for me. The words of this book, therefore, are particularly dear to me. Guardini says: ‘The Church is not an institution devised and built by human beings … but a living reality. … It lives still throughout the course of time. Like all living realities it develops, it changes … and yet in the very depths of its being it remains the same: its inmost nucleus is Christ.’“
“Our experience yesterday in the square thus seemed to me: seeing that the Church is a living body, animated by the Holy Spirit and truly alive by the power of God. It is in the world but not of the world: it is of God, of Christ, and of the Spirit. We saw this yesterday. This is why Guardini’s other famous expression is true and eloquent: ‘The Church is awakening within souls.’ The Church lives, grows, and awakens in souls that—like the Virgin Mary—embrace the Word of God and conceive of it as the work of the Holy Spirit. The offer God their very flesh and, precisely in their poverty and humility, become capable of generating Christ today in the world. Through the Church, the Mystery of the Incarnation remains present forever. Christ continues to walk through all ages and places.”
“Let us remain united in this mystery, dear brothers; in prayer and especially in daily Eucharist, so that we might thus serve the Church and all of humanity. This is our joy, which no one can take from us.”
“Before greeting you personally I would like to tell you all that I will continue to be near to you in prayer, especially in the coming days, so that you may be fully docile to the Holy Spirit’s action in electing the new Pope. May the Lord show you what He wills. Among you, among the College of Cardinals, is also the future Pope, to whom I already today promise my unconditioned reverence and obedience.”
On finishing his address, Benedict XVI greeted all the 144 cardinals and the other members of the Roman Curia present personally.