My Papa

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In honor of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, who serves his final day as Roman Pontiff, here are 10 individuals who have shared memories, stories and reflections of Pope Benedict and what it was like to encounter the Vicar of Christ.  Longer than our usual post, we hope you enjoy this small tribute to our “Papa”.  How will YOU honor him today?

Among his countless responsibilities before being elected to the papacy, Joseph Ratzinger was the “Cardinal Protector” of the Casa Balthasar, a small international house of formation and discernment located inRome.  During the time that I lived there (1991-93—before my teaching career in our Diocese or entering seminary), Cardinal Ratzinger would visit us now and again for supper and extended conversation.  I remember how utterly serene and generous and disciplined he was with his time; even then he was doing so much for so many, including our little group of fifteen young men trying to discover their vocations.  His spontaneous responses to our questions were incisive and profound, worthy of publication as they came forth from his heart.  But my favorite memory of him is a silent and (at least up to now) hidden one.

Since 1986 Cardinal Ratzinger had chaired the committee that drafted and oversaw the completion of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  For the Holy Mass of its official promulgation on October 11, 1992—the thirtieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council—I had through the Casa Balthasar been invited to be one of the lectors.  Coming very early that morning to the rehearsal at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, I was overwhelmed that already there was a sea of Cardinals, other Bishops, and every manner of lay faithful mulling about and talking with great anticipation.  In the midst of all of this holy commotion, I happened to notice Cardinal Ratzinger enter the church discretely and slip immediately into the Marian side chapel where the Holy Eucharist is reserved; he remained there in silent prayer until the Sacred Liturgy began.

I thought then—and still do—that this man has chosen what is essential.  In his abdication of the papacy “for the good of the Church,” Pope Benedict does not at all simply slip away from the crowds and the commotion.  Spending the final period of his earthly life in hidden prayer, he enters more deeply into the essential.  In the Catechism (#773) we read that “the ‘Marian’ dimension of the Church precedes the ‘Petrine.’”  As he moves into the Mater Ecclesiae [Mother of the Church] Monastery at the heart ofVatican City, Benedict XVI goes before us in Marian contemplation and intercession, further shepherding our sharing in the Heavenly Liturgy already begun.

Fr. Daniel Scheidt, Pastor of Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mishawaka, IN

The night before the closing Mass at World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain, had arrived. We were to camp in the airfield where Mass was to be held the next day. Unfortunately a storm had started while I and 2 million other youths and chaperons set up camp. It was very frightening for the next hour or so, as many of us huddled together, standing on the rubber soles of our shoes, hoping we wouldn’t get struck by lightning. Many people were crying, and the priests were standing over our little huddles saying blessings. In the midst of all this the pope was calmly leading adoration. He told all of us that he wished to stay with us there that night, and that although he was not physically allowed to he would be there in spirit. Hearing these words, even though they had to be translated, was very comforting. All there were touched by the Pope’s calming words. Many people criticize Pope Benedict for being too distant especially with the youth, if they had been there that night they would have surely seen how wrong they are. This humble pontiff was anything but distant, it felt as though he reached out to every person and held their hand through the storm assuring that they would be alright. Although he was over  80 years old at the time, he was able to make a crowd of over 2 million youth of all languages go from cheering for their beloved Shepherd to kneeling in silent prayer in adoration of their Lord. He had such a universal connection that felt personal to every person there.

Anne Therese Poinsatte, student at Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne, IN

Monsignor Owen Campion greets Pope Benedict XVI

Lent is a time for frankness.  Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation on the threshold of Lent.  His decision has prompted conjectures about his successor and about the realities of the Church and the world both in private conversations and news reports alike.  The more useful lesson, a lesson for spiritual growth, is in the Holy Father’s decision itself.  The Pope acted first and last as a disciple of the Lord.  He measured his position as head of the Church solely by his effectiveness in assisting the building of God’s kingdom.  Nothing else mattered.  He frankly looked at himself, at the situation, and finally — and critically — at the sweet duty of the disciple to serve the Lord.  God bless him.

Monsignor Owen Campion, Editor, Our Sunday Visitor


I can still clearly picture the filled Yankee stadium leaning in to watch and listen as Pope Benedict XVI told us from the baseball field below: “Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life”. These words and that weekend in New York have resonated with me ever since. It was the first time I saw and understood the Catholic Church as a global one, and realized that I would never be alone in my faith. I came to this realization not only because you could fill stadium upon stadium with other Catholics, but because God and his Word would always be present, just like I felt them on that rainy April day. Seeing Pope Benedict XVI in person and witnessing such a wise and holy man reaching out to his beloved Church gave me the goal of becoming a more informed and involved Catholic, a goal which has guided my decisions since. It led me to attend diocesan retreats in high school, which gave me a deeper understanding of my Catholic faith in a community of encouraging peers. The trip to see Pope Benedict also started me reading his encyclicals, which in turn influenced my decision to study Catholic Social Tradition in college, and it even provided meaningful material for my college application essays, allowing me to study at a Catholic school—the University of Notre Dame—today. Pope Benedict XVI told us in Spe Salvi that “the one who has hope lives differently”, and seeing him in New York gave me the hope I needed to change the course of my life, starting when I walked out of Yankee Stadium on that day.

Katherine Gordon, student at the University of Notre Dame

It was my great privilege in February of 2012 to accompany Bishop Rhoades to meet His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI. It was one of the most anticipated moments of my entire life. When I was a student in college, reading Pope Benedict’s books began a process of deepening my faith that, in hind sight, is clearly one of the most important moments in my life to date. In The Spirit of the Liturgy he taught me to love the Holy Mass and drink from the great well of the Church’s liturgical tradition. In books such as Truth and Tolerance and Principles of Catholic Theology he was the first to form my mind theologically. And most importantly, in Jesus of Nazareth he taught me what it means to encounter Christ. And now for the past two years I have had the privilege of living right next to my hero, Pope Benedict, going to his Sunday Angelus addresses, general audiences, and many Masses, receiving his homilies, and praying with him in the Sacred Liturgy. I have grown in admiration especially for his courage in exercising the Petrine ministry, even when many of his decisions have been unpopular, even within the Church. But more importantly, I have seen the source of his courage. It is not the shallow sort of courage that comes to someone who merely likes a good fight. Rather, it is the courage of one who so intimately knows our Lord that he is completely assured of doing His will and desires by his actions only to make Christ known. This is what I hope everyone will remember most about this great and holy man who has so courageously and humbly served as the Vicar of Christ is these days: how profoundly he knew and loved Christ, and how greatly he wanted to share Him with the whole world.

Royce Gregerson, Seminarian for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend studying in Rome

The memory of Pope Benedict that will always stand out was a serendipitous drive-by during World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid.  I was on hand to coordinate between media and U.S. bishops. The day of the pope’s arrival, all media attention shifted from the bishops to the pope, which provided an opportunity to slip away from the media center. I jumped on the subway and came above ground again – I hoped – somewhere close to the parade route the pope was taking from the airport to the nunciature.

Turning my map this way and that, I wandered toward the sound of a crowd and pretty quickly ran up against the throng of people, children on their shoulders, barricaded against the side of the road. As soon as I took my place among them, a roar went up, and the papal motorcade quickly appeared from over a nearby hill, the pope happily waving from behind the glass as he zipped past.

The affection in the air was palpable. We had only seen the pope for a few seconds, but what lingered was a feeling of being in the presence of someone else, someone who loved us more than we even loved ourselves. It was very intimate, almost overwhelming. As a person of faith, it affirmed for me that the pope really does bring people to Christ and Christ to people.

Don Clemmer, Assistant Director of Media Relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI made a visit to St. Joseph’s Seminary to greet and inspire an audience of young Catholics.  I will admit, I had not made great preparations for this trip. I simply heard our Papa was coming across the waters, and I had always wanted to go to New York City.  Not a depth of discernment was involved, but God always knows what is in store.  I can still feel and re-visit the energy of the crowd when the Pope mobile entered the grounds.  That moment, before you catch your first glimpse of the pope, there is an outpouring of grace over the audience, and all you can do is erupt in celebration of such a triumphant and sacred experience.  The pilgrimage by bus, subway and walking the streets of New York, had finally come to fruition.  We were cheering in unison for the Pope’s arrival, because we were in the presence of our shepherd.  I came to see Pope Benedict XVI, but truthfully, I believe most people come to see and hear Christ.  Pope Benedict shared deep wisdom on a path for successful discipleship through “personal prayer and silence, liturgical prayer, charity in action, and vocations”.  That moment affirmed my calling to holiness, through the vocation of marriage.  I can now reflect on my trip to see the Holy Father, and I thank the Lord for such a grace-filled blessing, a blessing that has impacted the man, husband, and Catholic I am today.  My Papa brought to life the Word and Sacrament of our faith.  In Matthew 4:20, we read, “At once they left their nets and followed him”.  Thousands of people left their nets to come and see Pope Benedict XVI- to come to know more fully our Lord, Jesus the Christ.

Reid Leazier, Youth Minister at St. Louis de Montfort Catholic Church in Fishers, IN

On August 15, 2011, I saw what I felt was the closet to heaven I have ever been. Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Madrid, Spain to greet the youth of the world. After he addressed the youth, a choir of 180 people began to sing the famous George Friederich Handel, Hallelujah. At this point in time I really saw the face of the Vicar of Christ through Pope Benedict. Beside me, were friends of mine that are still in the seminary. I looked at my friends and we all had tears in our eyes. We looked at each other and said, “if this is what Heaven is like I can not wait to be there!” Our Holy Father walked down the stage waving to the youth with a smile on his face, and a sparkle in his eye. Still to this day I go back to YouTube and watch this clip, and get tears in my eyes. God Bless Pope Benedict, and thank you for the impact that you have had on my life.

Chelsea Domiano, student at the University of Indianapolis

In 2005, a few friends and I decided to travel to see the charismatic Pope John Paul II at World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany. However, that was not meant to be. After we had made our travel plans, John Paul II died and was succeeded by Pope Benedict XVI. There was some initial uncertainty of whether WYD would still take place or not. And from our end, did we still want to go? Who was this new pope anyway? Well, he was German and would be coming to visit his homeland, and he was “the Pope” after all, so we decided to continue with our travel plans.

We first saw Pope Benedict when he arrived at the Cologne Cathedral, just up the steps from where we stood. He joyfully greeted the enthusiastic crowd with arms raised high. The Holy Father moved slowly and deliberately, and even took the time to say a few words to those of us who had been waiting for him there for several hours. The young people in the plaza raised flags from numerous nations and chanted his name in many different languages. Yet together, we were all united in our desire to spend time with our Pope. What an incredible experience of the catholicity of the Church! The Church had come from near and far to gather with its earthly head, the Vicar of Christ. And Pope Benedict had chosen to continue his predecessor’s tradition of meeting with the young people of the world. It was there and then that my friends and I knew that we had another advocate for the young people of the Church in Pope Benedict.

Sean Allen, Young Adult Minister at St. Pius X Catholic Church in  Granger, IN and for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend

I first saw Pope Benedict XVI at WYD 2011 in Madrid, Spain.  We knew we couldn’t get close enough to see him on stage so we looked for a location along his entry route to the city that we could see him.  After some initial confusion on his route we found the perfect spot and arrived ahead of the crowds to be on the front row.  I had seen Blessed John Paul II three times so I knew the excitement level for myself and the crowds would be no different.  As we were waiting and the crowds started to get bigger I remember telling the teens that were with me to remember this moment because it is a moment you will remember for the rest of your lives and that you will tell your grandchildren about.  I’m not sure if I was happier for them or myself knowing what we were about to experience for the first time.  There was great anticipation!  The street we were on was long with a slight hill so we could see him coming from over a half mile away.  At the first glimpse of his “Pope Mobile” the crowd went wild and flags from every country were being waved through the air.  When he finally passed our spot we had a clear view of him.  He was waving and smiling at everyone.  I remember thinking how happy he looked to see so many young people alive in their faith.  The bonus to our afternoon was after the opening ceremonies, we got to see him again in a different location as he left the city.  With a teen on my shoulders to see over the crowd she took an incredible video.  Just as he passed he looked our way.  I’ve kept that video on my camera and I often look at.   His smile and his happiness are forever on my mind.

Jeff Rude, parishioner at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Fort Wayne, IN