Around 6:00 pm on April 19th, the bells of St. Peter’s rang out again, and people all over the city dropped everything to race to the Vatican. Habemus Papam! We have a new pope! Everyone gathered in the square waited for the announcement of who it was: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger! Crowds of young people hugged each other with joy, and, electrified by his appearance on the balcony, began to chant: Ben-e-dic-tus. In this lesson we will learn more about our new Pope, who he is, what he stands for, and why we the young people look ahead to his pontificate with hope.
Growing Up in Tough Times
Joseph Ratzinger was born on April 16, 1927 in Marktl am Inn, Germany. That area of Germany (Bavaria) is known for the strong Catholic faith of its people and their contagious joy.
This joy was truncated, however, when Adolf Hitler took over Germany in 1933 and eventually launched the country into Word War II. Joseph’s father, a retired policeman, opposed the Nazi regime, and as a teen Joseph himself refused to join the Hitler Youth organization, even though this meant he would be given less financial help by the government for his studies.
He had felt attracted to the priesthood since a young age, and during his teens he joined a high school seminary. Eventually he and all his companions were forced, like all other German youth, to enter the army. Joseph was 16 years old when he was conscripted in 1943. He testifies that “the next two years were very difficult”, and at the end of the war all soldiers were taken prisoners, but eventually he was able to return home.
As a priest, bishop and cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger has often spoken out about the evils of the Nazi system.
He resumed his studies for the priesthood immediately after his release, even though his old seminary had been destroyed by the war.
Gift for Theology
He was ordained a priest when he was 24. Even during his seminary years it was clear that he had a special gift for the study of the faith (theology), and so he was asked to become a professor at the seminary and then at the university. He served the Church many years as a priest and theology professor, studying and instructing others on different points of Catholic teaching. His classes were very popular among the students for the depth of understanding that he showed and for the love of Christ that his explanations stirred in them. He very much loved his work as professor.
During the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) he was named a special consultor to the bishops, in spite of the fact that he was much younger than almost all the other experts.
At the age of 50, much to his surprise, Pope Paul VI asked him to head the large archdiocese of Munich, Germany. He was consecrated as archbishop, and a month later was named a cardinal.
In 1981, when he was 54, Pope John Paul II asked him to take a difficult position in Rome as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It was not a job he wanted, because it often entails receiving vicious criticism, but he knew this was the way Christ had called him to serve the Holy Father.
This responsibility gave him a special role of safeguarding the integrity of the Catholic Faith, and answering questions of how to be faithful to Church teachings. He worked very closely with the Holy Father on these projects. The Catechism of the Catholic Church that we currently use was one of the projects that he and his commission worked on for six years.
Unimpressed with himself
What is this man who has accepted Christ’s call to be our Holy Father like? The first word used by those who know him is always “humble”. As Cardinal, one could often see him walking across St. Peter’s Square on his way home or on his way to a meeting with the Pope, stopping to greet anyone who approached him along the way, and often giving directions to those who did not even know who he was.
An Italian journalist, Vittorio Messori, says that he is a “man, among other things, of subtle humor, quick smile.” This sense of humor helps him not take himself too seriously, or react to the criticism of others. “I remember one afternoon,“ wrote Messori, “when we were at table, after he received an award for something. He wanted me to tell him some of the jokes circulating about him in the parishes. I told him some of them and realized that he was really amused.”
True spiritual fatherhood
Pope Benedict XVI understands from the example of the John Paul II that a true father gives everything he is and has to care for his children. The word “Pope” means father, papa, or dad, and so we call him the Holy Father.
A father is the one who can help us when we have an important question, when we are confused about something. Through his teaching at the university level, his kind advice to seminarians, his books and articles, and his statements as Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Ratzinger, now our Holy Father, has always been there to counsel and instruct in the truth.
A good father is brave, and unafraid of anybody when it comes to protecting us. Even in the face of criticism, he knows how to distinguish good and evil, and stand up for what is right. A father believes in us and builds our own sense of confidence in who we are. He is responsible and faithful to his children, whether they be natural children, or those entrusted to him in a spiritual level.
A Hero Lost
John Paul II was a rock and a light for young people around the world. In the midst of a society that treated us with condescension and contempt, telling us we were dreamers and uncontrollable, he showed us we could be great.
Secular culture invited us to be modern, to destroy rules of morality and follow the waves of fashion without finding meaning to life. Pope John Paul II believed that we could be better, and hoped in us as the force that could transform society. He spoke to us of Christ, of the truth, and of the noble ideals we could attain. He truly loved us and gave himself to us without counting the cost.
A Hero Found
The new Pope knows how much John Paul II meant to the young people, and has already taken steps to assure us that we are not alone. He announced immediately that he will attend World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany this August, gladly keeping the appointment made by John Paul II.
During one of his first speeches our new Holy Father said “With you, dear young people, I will continue to dialogue, listening to your expectations in an attempt to encounter ever more profoundly the living Christ, the eternally young.”
Pope Benedict XVI speaks with the same firmness of faith, the coherence and confidence in Christ that we learned from John Paul II. He gives us confidence that adherence to Christ is our stronghold and message amidst confusion. He addresses young people in a way that gives us hope for what the future can bring, if we build our lives on these same principles.
At his Mass of Inauguration as Pope on April 24th, he said: “Today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ—and you will find true life.”
One young person tries to explain the enthusiasm that has exploded spontaneously for our new Holy Father:
“Why are we young people so excited to have this new Pope?” asked David Assad, “Because in the midst of this confused world God has given us a clear light, a firm faith, a solid rock on which to build our lives.
“The shock of the liberal media doesn’t impress us at all, neither do the terrified faces of those aging ideologies before the light of truth.
“We live the eternal youth of the truth of Christ, the truth that does not change, sustained by the rock of Peter. This is the truth that fills us with happiness.”
“’You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church … I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven’. (Matthew 16:18)
‘Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching… As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.’ [St. Paul, 2 Tim 4:2-5]
‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.’ (John 8:12)
“”Before my eyes is, in particular, the witness of Pope John Paul II. He leaves us a Church that is more courageous, freer, younger. A Church that, according to his teaching and example, looks with serenity to the past and is not afraid of the future.”
“Love is the power which God exercises in the world. To pray is to put oneself on the side of this love-…. As Christians, as those who pray, this is our very highest task.” (Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy By Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger)
“The Church is not a market, but a family… a guide and witness to unity in the context of the familiarity of the Church with one single teacher, Christ”
Catechism of the Catholic Church
882 The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.” “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.”
85 “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.”47 This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.
Saints and Heroes:
Mother Francis Xavier Cabrini (Love for the Holy Father)
St Frances Cabrini was one of 13 children raised on a farm in northern Italy. Since she was a child, she wanted to be a missionary in China. She received a catholic education and training as a teacher. She tried to join a religious order at age 18, but poor health prevented her from being accepted. A priest asked her to teach at a girl’s school, the House of Providence Orphanage in Cadagono, Italy, which she did for six years. Seeing how well she worked, in 1880 her bishop asked her to found the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to care for poor children in schools and hospitals. In 1888 the Holy Father, Pope Leo XIII asked her to be a missionary among the poor Catholic immigrants in the United States who were quickly losing their faith in the difficult circumstances there. With great love and faith she and six sisters arrived in New York in 1889. They worked with untiring dedication among immigrants, especially Italians. She quickly received the loving title of “Mother” among everyone she met, because of her profound charity and deep sense of service. She founded 67 institutions, including schools, hospitals, and orphanages in the United States, Europe and South America. Like many of the immigrants she worked with, Mother Cabrini became a United States citizen during her life, and after her death she was the first US citizen to be canonized.
Father Edward Flanagan (Dedication to youth)
Edward Flanagan was born in Ireland on July 13th 1886. He immigrated to America in 1904 to follow a long-held dream to become a priest. When he was ordained in 1912 his bishop sent him to work in Omaha, Nebraska. There he saw real poverty: hundreds of unemployed men, with their wives and families, lived in the most terrible conditions. He was especially concerned about the huge number of homeless boys on the streets. After the First World War ended in 1918, he founded Boys Town, a place for young homeless or destitute boys to live. He gathered hundreds of boys and helped them by his dedication and faith. His motto was “There’s no such thing as a bad boy.” By 1936 Boys’ Town was an official city of the State of Nebraska. In 1938 a movie called Boys town was created and released based on this true story. His courage and faith has inspired not only the boys which he helped but thousands others with his heroic fatherhood. His work continues to this day in the many Boys Towns around the world.
Discussion Question Options
What are the qualities of a good father? In what ways should the Pope be a reflection of this? In what ways can you remember that John Paul II showed himself to be a true Holy Father?
Many Catholics are excited by the new pope, but many media reporters cannot understand why. What reasons could you give, to explain why we look forward with hope to this new Pope, and why people feel excitement over his election?
Why is the Pope different than any other governmental leader? How is the election different? What types of qualities might people look for in a governmental leader? What qualities would be important for a Pope?
Christ said that the gates of Hell would never triumph over his Church, and no matter what happens in the world, the rock of Peter would remain. Does this give you confidence and hope for the future? Does it give you a sense of security, no matter what happens?
Do you prefer someone who tells you the truth, even when it is hard, or someone who just tells you what you want to hear, even when it is wrong? What happens if we disregard the Pope just because we do not like something he says?
Journal Writing Options
One day you will be telling your children, or other young people, what it was like this day when you heard about the new Pope. What was your experience? What hopes and expectations do you have for the future?
What are some ways that you can personally back up the Holy Father, and support him in his mission? What are some attitudes you can practice? Things you can say?
Hold a Catechism trivia contest, with the newest Catechism of the Catholic Church. Questions can come from the content, as well as a knowledge of the general outline and structure of the Catechism.
In groups, students make short reports on the following questions which Cardinal Ratzinger helped clarify. Students look up the reference and the teaching, and give a brief summary of the main points to the rest of the class:
Are all religions equal?
Do Catholic politicians have to vote according to Catholic principles?
What is the difference between separating Church and State, and intolerant secularism?
Is it moral to do research with human embryos?
Is homosexual marriage valid?
When can religion become too involved in trying to change politics (liberation theology)?
How can one show reverence in Mass and love for the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist?
When should a person not receive communion?
Make an informational pamphlet to hand out to other students, families, and parishioners, with facts to help them know Pope Benedict XVI better. Students can divide into groups to find quotes, pictures, a map of his hometown, interesting stories from his youth, etc.
To explain the papal election: http://www.catholic-pages.com/pope/
The life and story of Pope Benedict XVI: http://www.catholicculture.org/lit/pope_benedict/
Books written by Cardinal Ratzinger : http://www.catholicculture.org/lit/pope_benedict/pope_ben_books.cfm