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Three meetings with Joseph Ratzinger


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Francisco Varo

Master's Degree Professor of Christianity and Contemporary Culture

On February 11, 2013 Pope Benedict XVI announced his Withdrawal to the Pontificate, which became effective on February 28 of that same year, thus becoming the first pope to resign in 598 years of history. Since then he has led a retired life of prayer in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, within the walls of Vatican City.

His recent death evoked in me report the afternoon of April 19, 2005, when we were able to receive on television the first Apostolic Blessing of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who until a few hours earlier had been Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. His election impressed me in a singular way, since it was the first time that the appointment as Bishop of Rome had gone to someone I had known personally before.

The previous pontiffs, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I and also John Paul II, who are the ones I have report (when Pius XII died I had just turned three years old, and I did not agreement) I always knew them as "the Pope", because I was not aware of having seen them even in a photo before their election. This time it was very different. That man of size average, a little shy at first impression, very attentive and delicate at attention, intelligent and cordial conversationalist, was from then on the Holy Father. I had never before had the experience of someone with whom I had chatted in a corridor between discussion paper and discussion paper of a congress, or with whom I had shared a table at cafeteria of a university.

I was introduced to him at the entrance hall of the School of Theology at the University of Navarra on February 1, 1998. He was interested in my work. I told him that I was dedicated to Sacred Scripture and we began to chat standing up, in an improvised conversation, to which other people joined in, about the translation of the Bible on which I was working at that moment. It was an exchange of impressions full of cordiality and good humor. From there we went to a classroom where he would have an informal colloquium with the professors of the School. His capacity to listen and to become position of the opinions expressed by his interlocutors on the questions that came up in the dialogue, where there was a strong exchange of ideas with a great spirit of openness, was striking.

During the days he spent in Pamplona, he lived as one more university student in the Belagua. high school Mayor Belagua. He talked to many students and professors. He was eager to talk and to know first hand what they thought, what concerns they had or what problems these young men and women were facing during the decisive years of their lives. It was enough to listen to his words to perceive his acute perception of reality, and his openness to the truth free of prejudices. A complete university man. But nothing theoretical or distant from what is happening. On the contrary, he was very attentive to the interests and problems of the people. He also wanted to open a space in his diary of activities to visit the sick of the Clínica Universidad de Navarra, taking an interest in them and bringing them the comfort of affection and prayer.

The speech he delivered at classroom Magna on the occasion of his appointment as honorary doctor was a masterpiece of conciseness and clarity, with exquisite academic rigor and a hint of irony: How can a university, which is a place where science is cultivated, grant a distinction to the "inquisitor"? he said jokingly, alluding to the adjectives with which some people used to speak of his position as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The second occasion on which I met Joseph Ratzinger was on February 16, 2000 in Madrid, on the occasion of a congress on the Encyclical "Fides et ratio" organized by the School of Theology "San Dámaso". Also at that time, in a very solemn context, his simplicity, closeness and at the same time clarity in expressing his thoughts in an appropriate and friendly way was evident. I remember that at that time I heard him give an example that has often given me food for thought. He brought up the Platonic myth of Thoth, the "father of letters" and the "god of time", who visited the Egyptian king Thamus of Thebes. He instructed the sovereign on various arts invented by him, and especially on the art of writing. Pondering his own invention, he said to the king: "This knowledge, O king, will make the Egyptians wiser and invigorate their report; it is the elixir of report and of wisdom". But the king was not impressed because he foresaw the opposite effect: "This will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who learn it by neglecting the exercise of the report, since now, trusting to the external writing, they will remember in an external way; not from their own interior and from themselves". Indeed, he went on to say, it is not a matter of accumulating information, but of being attentive to the truth and assimilating it in order to live in conformity with it. If man disregards the truth, then only the arbitrary can dominate him, and in the long run this is destructive for the human being himself. It is therefore the duty of humanity to protect man against the dictatorship of the conjunctural that has become absolute and to restore his dignity.

In a way, I think that also portrays something of his personality. He is a very learned and erudite man, but what really matters to him is the truth. Faced with the dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and that only leaves as the ultimate measure the self and its desires, Ratzinger maintains that man is not imprisoned in the room of mirrors of interpretations, but that he can and should be interested in reality. If the first meeting with him in Pamplona left me the mark of his simplicity, sympathy and deep humanity, the symposium in Madrid showed me the bold thinker Ratzinger who seeks deep and coherent, true solutions to the problems that afflict man today.

The third time was a few days later, on February 27, in Rome. This time it was a congress that brought together a hundred theologians from all over the world at the Vatican to study together the way in which the teachings and orientations of the Second Vatican Council had been put on internship from its completion until the year 2000. Cardinal Ratzinger dealt at length with the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium on the Church. There he dropped a very significant comment. It is the document of the Council about which most has been written, especially about the very constitution of the Church, about the mission statement of the laity, priests, bishops and the Roman Pontiff, as well as about the relationship between the universal Church and the particular Churches. Recognizing the great theological interest of the Church's reflection on herself, he wondered if at this time it would not be more important to look at the first sentence of this document, perhaps the least developed in the post-conciliar years: Lumen gentium cum sit Christus... (Since Christ is the light of the nations...). That is to say, instead of looking inward to debate who rules or can rule in the Church, or to defend our own quotas of power, why don't we look more to the world before us to bring it the light it needs to illuminate its paths, the light that is Christ? That is the treasure that the Church can bring to humanity today: to make Jesus Christ, the Son of God, true man, known.

To the already rich personality that I had come to know on previous occasions, the meeting of Rome allowed me to add the traits of a man of communion, who neither separates nor disintegrates but integrates, helping to overcome differences in order to rediscover what is truly important for a Christian, which is to have our gaze fixed on Jesus, so that we may be animated by the holy restlessness to bring to all the gift of faith and friendship with Christ.

Many years have passed, but the mark left by the closeness, even if brief, almost instantaneous, of a man of God is indelible. Many others will have more details to remember and be grateful for. But, in my case, the passing of the years has only served to make me value and appreciate better those three brief encounters, which left an undeniable mark on me.