Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowd after delivering his Christmas message “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Day 2012. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
On Feb. 11, during a consistory of cardinals assembled for the announcement of three new canonizations, Pope Benedict XVI declared that, due to deteriorating “strength of mind and body,” he would renounce “the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter,” effective 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, 2013.
In his general audience on Feb. 13, Pope Benedict explained to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square that he made this difficult decision “in full freedom for the good of the Church.” He also made it in faith, “strengthened and reassured by the certainty that the Church is Christ’s, who will never leave her without his guidance and care.”
When he was first elected on April 19, 2005, the pope stepped onto the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica as “a simple and humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord.” With this historic declaration, he leaves the Petrine ministry as he came to it — and leaves the Church profoundly enriched by his example of life and his luminous body of teaching. Benedict lays down his office in simplicity, humility and faith, caring for the good of the Lord’s vineyard more than himself.
During the inaugural Mass of his pontificate, Pope Benedict told those wondering what kind of pope he might be that there was no need for him to give a “program of governance” that would guide his papacy. “My real program of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole Church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by Him, so that He himself will lead the Church at this hour of our history.”
The new pope had further explained that careful discernment of God’s will can lead to difficult decisions. And yet “this will does not weigh down on us, oppressing us and taking away our freedom. To know what God wants, to know where the path of life is found — this was Israel’s joy…. It is also our joy: God’s will does not alienate us, it purifies us — even if this can be painful — and so it leads us to ourselves.” By listening for and following this will, however inscrutable, we know that “we serve not only him, but the salvation of the whole world, of all history.”
Nearly eight years later, the Church and the world saw that this “program of governance” had undergone no change from Benedict XVI’s first day as pope. The decision to renounce the See of Peter, “knowing full well the seriousness of this act,” emerged from the same willingness to discern the will of the Lord and to obey it in love. And though this decision caught the world by surprise, it was in conformity with a papacy that sought from the beginning to be a “service to … God’s joy which longs to break into the world.”
“These days … have not been easy for me,” Pope Benedict admitted during the Feb. 13 general audience. But, he added, “I have felt almost physically the power of prayer — your prayers — which the love of the Church has given me. Continue to pray for me, for the Church and for the future pope. The Lord will guide us.”
Following the announcement, Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson issued a statement on behalf of all Knights of Columbus:
“In these remaining days of his papacy, our thoughts and prayers are with Pope Benedict XVI, who has worked so hard in leading the Church and has always been such a good friend to the Knights of Columbus,” he said. “In addition, we pray for all those cardinals who will take part in the conclave and for his successor, that God may inspire them as they carry out the mission with which they are entrusted.”
In a spirit of gratitude for what God has given to the Church through Benedict XVI, and in response to the pope’s request for prayers, the Order has provided special prayer cards that can be used during the period of papal transition. Knights of Columbus members and all the faithful are asked to pray in solidarity with Pope Benedict for God’s grace at this solemn moment in the life of the Church.
MICHELLE K. BORRAS is director of the Order’s Catholic Information Service.
Prayer for the Church
O Lord Jesus Christ, Supreme Pastor of Your Church, we thank you for the ministry of Pope Benedict XVI and the selfless care with which he has led us as Successor of Peter, and Your Vicar on earth.
Good Shepherd, who founded Your Church on the rock of Peter’s faith and have never left Your flock untended, look with love upon us now, and sustain Your Church in faith, hope, and charity.
Grant, Lord Jesus, in Your boundless love for us, a new Pope for Your Church who will please You by his holiness and lead us faithfully to You, who are the same yesterday, today, and forever. Amen.
Declaration of Pope Benedict XVI
Dear Brothers, I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.
From the Vatican, 10 February 2013
BENEDICTUS PP XVI