Pope Benedict marked two major milestones in his life this week. On Monday, the German Pontiff turned 80 years old. And yesterday he celebrated the second anniversary of his election as the Roman Pontiff and Successor of Peter.
During a highly symbolic mass in a St. Peter's Square packed with 50,000 people to commemorate his 80th birthday on Sunday morning, Pope Benedict thanked God and his own earthly family for his life and his papacy.
This octogenarian, considered to be a master teacher by millions, continues to draw record crowds to his weekly audiences, surpassing those who came to hear his beloved Pope John Paul II. People are flocking to him not so much to "see the Pope" as to be nourished spiritually and intellectually by their chief shepherd and teacher.
Seven decades of impeccable scholarship are being crystallized and synthesized into incredibly beautiful teaching before our very eyes. No wonder many call him "the Mozart of theologians."
As Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith for a quarter of a century, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger always distinguished himself as a man of great vision, not as a bureaucrat or manager. He would love to see a Church that is simpler in terms of bureaucracy. He doesn't want its central and peripheral institutions -- the Vatican curia, the diocesan chanceries, the episcopal conferences - to become "like the armour of Saul, which prevented the young David from walking."
In his first general audience, held in St. Peter's Square on April 26, 2005, Benedict explained why he chose the name of Benedict "...as a link to the venerated Pontiff, Benedict XV, who guided the Church through the turbulent times of the First World War."
Ratzinger continued: "Benedict XV was a true and courageous prophet of peace who struggled strenuously and bravely, first to avoid the drama of war and then to limit its terrible consequences. In his footsteps I place my ministry, in the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples, profoundly convinced that the great good of peace is above all a gift of God, a fragile and precious gift to be invoked, safeguarded and constructed, day after day and with everyone's contribution."
Thousands of his fellow Germans who have flocked to Rome this week have been chanting in the crowds: "Bededikt, Gott Geschickt," translated as "Benedict, sent to us from God." The Church and indeed the world are grateful for such a gift at this moment in history. Ad multos annos, great teacher!