In the eight years of his pontificate, Benedict XVI guided his flock as a gentle shepherd. He offered a wealth of teaching, and each of his many initiatives, apostolic journeys, reforms and canonizations carried a profound significance. A comprehensive assessment of Benedict’s lasting impression on the Church would fill volumes. In the photos and timeline that follow, we simply share some of our memories of Benedict and highlight various ways that he influenced the Knights of Columbus.
Benedict XVI was a preeminent teacher who understood well the office of the pope as a visible sign of unity. Ever focused on the truth of Jesus Christ, he made significant gestures toward strengthening authentic Christian unity, interreligious dialogue, and emphasis on the continuity of the Church’s teaching and liturgical traditions. He wrote only three encyclical letters during his pontificate, including Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), which spoke directly about the Order’s first principle: charity. Instead of formal documents, the Holy Father’s catechesis usually took the form of homilies and Wednesday audiences, in which he systematically discussed foundational topics such as Christian prayer. In this way, as well as through remarkable academic lectures, informal reflections and his trilogy of books on Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict left the Church with a great treasury of wisdom to ponder for generations to come.
Nonetheless, this wisdom was not intended for the annals of history or the halls of academia. Benedict recognized that “the word of God is alive and active” (Heb 4:12) and that the Christian faith is a reality to be lived, not merely believed or understood. To help the Church communicate this living faith more effectively, he presided at various synods of bishops, established the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization and proclaimed the Year of Faith, which we are currently observing. Having consulted at the Second Vatican Council and having worked closely with his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, Benedict took seriously the relationship between the universal call to holiness and the need for a new evangelization.
Benedict also presented the Church with many models of faith by canonizing 45 saints during his pontificate, including holy men and women who lived in the United States, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico and Poland. Among them was St. Rafael Guízar Valencia, a bishop of Mexico and member of the Knights. In 2008, Benedict also approved a decree recognizing the heroic virtue of the Order’s founder, Father Michael J. McGivney, conferring upon him the distinction of “Venerable Servant of God.”
Additionally, Benedict followed John Paul II’s precedent and made numerous pastoral visits to Catholics around the world, despite the fact that, at age 78, he was the oldest person to be elected pope in nearly three centuries. In all, Benedict made 24 trips outside of Italy during the eight years of his pontificate. Among those of greatest significance to the Knights were his visits to Poland (2006), the United States (2008), and Mexico and Cuba (2012), as well as World Youth Day events in Cologne, Sydney and Madrid. Even when he was unable to travel, the Holy Father was often present in spirit, sending personal messages via delegates (as with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone’s presence at the 125th Supreme Convention) or satellite messages (as with the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec and the beatification of martyrs in Mexico City).
In various ways, Benedict addressed the growing challenges facing the Catholic Church throughout the world, from the often-violent persecution of Christians in areas like the Middle East and Asia to the marginalizing and dehumanizing influence of secularism and the culture of death in the West. Addressing a group of U.S. bishops during their ad limina visit, Benedict noted “the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness” in the United States and emphasized “the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity … with the courage to counter a reductive secularism….” In solidarity with the Holy Father, the Knights of Columbus embraced this call to faithful witness.
On Feb. 28, as the sun set on his pontificate, Benedict delivered his parting words to a crowd gathered outside the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo. “I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this earth,” he said. “I feel greatly supported by your kindness. Let us go forward with the Lord for the good of the Church and the world. Thank you.” As we fondly remember Benedict’s humble presence and lifetime of service to the Church, our hearts too are filled with gratitude.