A powerful image of Peter is presented to us in the Acts of the Apostles 5:15-16: “They even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed."
I have always been moved by the image of the shadow of Peter passing over the sick and afflicted. People who passed within Peter’s shadow were healed, not by Peter’s shadow, but by God’s power working through Peter. These miracles of healing attracted people to the early Church and confirmed the truth of the teachings of the Apostles and the fact that the power of God was with them. We also learn that the religious leaders who were jealous of Jesus’ power and authority saw the Apostles as a continued threat and demanded respect for themselves. The apostles weren’t demanding respect for themselves. Their goal was to bring respect and reverence to God. The Apostles had acquired the respect of the people, not because they demanded it, but because they deserved it.
That biblical image is very much on my mind and in my heart these days in Rome. Tonight as the doors of the Papal residence at Castelgandolfo were closed and the Swiss Guard detail left their post, the See of Peter became vacant. I cannot help but call to mind the powerful images of Pope Benedict XVI as he moved among us these past eight years and as I followed him from Rome to Germany to the United States, Australia and Spain. He was Joseph, our brother. As a theology student, I was captivated by the depth of his theological writings and message. I was ordained to the priesthood on April 19, 1986. Nineteen years later on that very date, he was called to the throne of Peter. We share that special date.
Joseph Ratzinger nourished my own spirituality and priestly life these past years. He appointed me to two Synods of Bishops and to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. And now I have the privilege of being one of the spokespersons for the Holy See as his Petrine ministry ends and his successor is elected Pope. He is a humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord and now a humble pilgrim who enters this final stage of his life praying for the Church.
For the past eight years, the shadow of Peter fell upon us in no small way. And that shadow, which is God’s healing touch, covers us all with mercy, healing and peace. When Pope Benedict walked among us, he did more than connect with us. He bonded. He moved multitudes. He taught the nations. He introduced us again to Jesus Christ. He showed remarkable courage, wisdom, compassion and humility. He suffered bitterly at the hands of those closest to him who let him down. He remained serene and joyful through it all.
Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia
An ancient Latin expression, first used by St. Ambrose in the fourth century, comes to mind these days in Rome: Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia, which translated means: Wherever Peter is, there is the Church. Peter was with us in the person of Benedict XVI. Only time, reflection and prayer will help us to appreciate the precious gift that he has been. The authentic shepherd, who models his or her life on Jesus, must love the people entrusted to him and imitate Jesus. Pope Benedict has done that very well. He is Peter, who was and is still with us.
With deep emotion and profound gratitude, I pray for him tonight.