Monday, February 11, 2013


It is stunning news which comes today, that Pope Benedict XVI, effective the end of February, will become the first Pope since St Celestine V (end of the 13th century) to resign.  I don't recall writing about it earlier, but I made no secret of my judgment that Benedict's health was very poor, based on my seeing him last month at a General Audience in the Paul VI Audience Hall during my visit to Italy.  There were several clues that morning:

He came in 10 minutes late for the audience, something he normally would never do.
His Italian, once notably "Germanic" in pronunciation and for me very easy to listen to and understand, was this time slurred and very difficult for me to catch.  This was true, sadly, even when he offered a "summary" of his address in English.  Ironically, I understood him best when he did his "summary" in Spanish.
He moved slowly and looked very thin and haggard of face.
He needed several drinks of water to get through even the actual (Italian) speech.
It is hard to escape the conclusion that there is something going on here beyond merely the aging process...

In 2004 I found myself in Rome during the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Vatican II Decree Unitatis Redintegratio, the document on ecumenism.  The events culminated in Evening Prayer in St Peter's, which I attended.  On that occasion, Pope John Paul II was literally wheeled in, and he began an address to the participants of the event.  But after only a few sentences, he started choking and gasping.  Cardinal Kasper had to finish the speech for him.  I knew then that things were not good, and from that time on we had Pope John Paul II in our weekend Prayers of the Faithful.  He died only a few months later, in April 2005.  It should be obvious that I write this recollection because my heart is perceiving a connection.  It makes me wonder, too, if Benedict was a friend who encouraged John Paul to resign because of his health (an encouragement, of course, rejected the the Pope).

If there is one great regret in Pope Benedict for his resignation, I believe it is his not being able to preside over the canonization of Bl John Henry Newman (a canonization which, when it happens, I will swim the Atlantic if necessary to attend). 

Some time in Lent a conclave will be summoned to elect a new pontiff.  Just a suggestion:  you might want to keep your eyes turned toward Manila...

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