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Apostolic Movement

Ensuring the presence of Christ and the presence of Mary – Requiem for Benedict XVI in Schoenstatt

Heinrich Brehm

During the afternoon of the day when the funeral celebrations for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI were held in Rome, the Schoenstatt Movement invited everyone to a Requiem Mass for him at the Church of the Holy Trinity on Mount Schoenstatt in Vallendar. The nearly 200 faithful who attended the ceremony, which had been announced on short notice, commemorated the only German-born pope to date, who led the Catholic Church for almost eight years, from 2005 to 2013. After leaving office on February 28, 2013, he lived almost 10 more years as pope emeritus at the Vatican, where he died on December 31, 2022.

Making the value of truth transparent

Ensuring the presence
Father Heinrich Walter, member of the International Coordination team of the Schoenstatt Movement (Photo: Becker)

Father Heinrich Walter, member of the team of the International Coordination of the Schoenstatt Movement, who presided over the service as main celebrant, summed up his recollection of Benedict XVI’s personality while pondering on what God communicated to the people through him, what he gave to mankind through this particular person. He added: “I experienced our Pope Benedict as someone who could speak the truth in such a way that its value was easily recognized, and this value of truth became for me an experience of my own, i.e., a valuable one.” With this Mass, the Schoenstatt Movement bid farewell to Pope Benedict, underlining the need to preserve the legacy he left us.

Humanity as a natural pre-experience of God

Father Heinrich Walter, member of the International Coordination team of the Schoenstatt Movement (Photo: Becker)
Father Lothar Penners ISch (Photo: Becker)

Father Lothar Penners had the task of summarizing some aspects of the significance of the historical figure of Joseph Ratzinger or Benedict XVI in a – as he himself emphasized – rather general overview.

The first perspective, he said, was the human nature, his compassion, which many had experienced in the encounter with him. By way of example, Penners cited testimonies from students on the Bonn faculty who praised Ratzinger’s humility and emphasized the respect and receptivity with which he had met with each student studying for semester exams. “Without this human characteristic,” Penners said, ” it would hardly have been possible for a German to have been elected pope after the death of John Paul II.” 

Bishops around the world who interacted with the Curia would probably have felt they were taken seriously by him, no matter what continent they came from. Joseph Ratzinger’s compassion, however, had a deeper motivation beyond his humility and discretion. He felt that in a civilization “in which a calculating and scheming way of thinking take precedence,” man was increasingly deprived of the possibility of having a natural preliminary experience of God. For Ratzinger, being fraternal took on a sacramental dimension. In an age in which everything has become predictable, “we need to be touched mysteriously by someone, by something that is different from us and yet calls us to communion in communication.”

Participants (Photo: Becker)

Theological genius

A second perspective is to look at the theologian, Penners said. It is hardly possible, he said, to summarize the theological contribution of his life in one sermon. Karl Lehmann, who had not always agreed with Ratzinger about his thinking, had described him as “something of a theological genius, not just a talent.” Ratzinger, the open and modern theologian, according to Penners, had an easy-to-understand language, which makes it unnecessary “to put on the heavy armor of the philosopher Kant to understand some of his theology.” Ratzinger not only says what he perceives, “but often reveals secrets by the way he talks about something.” That, he said, is what many of his students found as a bridge leading to their own faith experience.

Among other things, Penners picked up on Ratzinger’s effort to provide an aid for comprehension in an age when it is increasingly difficult to talk about final matters, such as the immortality of the soul and the mortality of the body, applying the concept of dialogue on immortality:

“What makes a human being a human being? And what makes a human being ready for eternity? It is his dependence on the Thou, and only when the infinite Thou welcomes the dying and the deceased into His dialogue anew and more deeply, does the human being reach God”, the preacher said.

“Often mysteries are revealed by the way we talk about something” (Photo: Becker)

A more reflective world

As a third perspective, Penners turned his attention to the question of how Benedict XVI had collaborated with the Petrine ministry under Pope John Paul II and later how he carried it out himself. In this context, he said, many beautiful things can be said about the theologian, about the preacher and about the brother in faith, but tensions and disputes cannot be ignored. Penners cited as examples ‘the dispute with Hans Küng, the tension with the German Bishops’ Conference concerning advice on the pregnancy conflict, and the debate, especially with some Latin American theologians, about the justification of a theology of liberation.’ “These disputes had been partly unavoidable, but they have had somewhat unfortunate and also tragic aspects,” Father Penners said.

With many of his statements, the Pope had contributed to “making the world slightly more reflective.” In his great speech delivered in the Reichstag building in Berlin, for example, he reminded the members of parliament of the wise man Solomon, king of the Israelites, who prayed for a watchful heart. He also spoke of the “ecology of man” and wondered whether there was not only an integral nature, but also an integral man. Regarding the statements about church life in Germany, however, the conference in Freiburg had shown “that the discrepancies between church life, as it was increasingly being formulated, and his ideas were already diverging considerably,” Penners said.

Ensuring the presence
A couple from the Schoenstatt Family Federation reads the intentions (Photo: Becker)

Challenge: to ensure the presence of Christ, the presence of Mary

“The more the Church is a minority in society, the more she is called to be the light and salt of the world in the spirit of the Gospel. That was Benedict’s conviction,” Penners continued. This would certainly require structural changes. But these alone could not shed light on the Gospel. “Our winter as Church is the absence of Christ,” Ratzinger had said in the words of St. Augustine in the requiem of Hans Urs von Balthasar in Switzerland: “A Church that seems old, a Church that has too little resonance, a Church that lives in conflict with itself,” Augustine would say, “is marked by the absence of Christ,” Penners recalled. “For a covenant movement like Schoenstatt, this is precisely the essential task: to ensure the presence of Christ, the presence of Mary. Then even a minority Church would have the spiritual strength to change society,” he concluded.



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