Pope Benedict XVI marks two major milestones in his life this week. On Monday, April 16, the German Pontiff turned 80 years old. And on Thursday, April 19, he celebrates the second anniversary of his election as the Roman Pontiff and Successor of Peter. I share this date with him as it is the anniversary of my own ordination to the priesthood in 1986.During a highly symbolic Mass in a packed St. Peter’s Square to commemorate his 80th birthday Sunday morning, the Pope was joined by 70 Cardinals, Archbishops, hundreds of priests and religious, foreign dignitaries and more than 50,000 people who celebrated the Eucharist with him.
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 the 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. 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.”
In his first general audience, held in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday, April 26 two years ago, Benedict XVI 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."
The Pontiff 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."
The Pope concluded his explanation: "The name Benedict also evokes the extraordinary figure of the great 'patriarch of western monasticism,' St. Benedict of Nursia, co-patron of Europe with Cyril and Methodius. The progressive expansion of the Benedictine Order which he founded exercised an enormous influence on the spread of Christianity throughout the European continent.” The Pope appealed to St. Benedict for help "to hold firm Christ's central position in our lives.
Thousands of his fellow Germans who have flocked to Rome this week have been chanting in the crowds: “Bededikt, Gott Geschickt,” which can be translated “Benedict, sent to us from God.” The Church and indeed the world are grateful for such a gift at this moment in history. We at Salt and Light Television in Canada join with those throughout the world who are raising up a litany of thanks to Almighty God for giving us this great shepherd for these critical times. Ad multos annos, great teacher! Thank you letting the Lord lead you in the footsteps of Peter.