[VMNT note: this article was first published on 28 February 2014, on the first anniversary of Pope Benedict’s resignation]
One year ago today [28 Feb 2014], living in Germany and in the same time zone as Italy, the work day fortunately did not interfere with my live observations of Benedict XVI’s final moments cathedra Petri sedens. Coming to the balcony of the pontifical summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, he was greeted by a throng of well-wishing local faithful, whose historic ties and steadfast loyalty to the Papacy were manifest in the thousands of banners and Holy See flags which fluttered in the vibrant pink-orange evening light. From the lips of adults and of children alike, cries of Viva il Papa resounded throughout the small hill town; Benedict spontaneously delivered his short and final speech, punctuated by cheers and applause. He reiterated his irrevocable decision to resign from the Petrine ministry per il bene della Chiesa, and graciously thanked all those present for their affection, their support, and their prayers for him and for the Church.
Non sono più Pontefice Sommo della Chiesa cattolica… Sono semplicemente un pellegrino che inizia l’ultima tappa del suo pellegrinaggio in questa terra.
I am no longer Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church… I am simply a pilgrim who begins the final stage of his pilgrimage on this earth.
After imparting his final blessing, he waved to the crowd; and after saying “Grazie! Buonanotte!“, he turned around and escaped from view.
From my residence in Bavaria, in Ratzinger’s beloved homeland, the tension in the air was palpable. Beginning at 7:30 PM local time, I heard the tolling of bells from every church within earshot; the chapel directly across the street from my place turned on all its lights, and a small candlelight vigil was taking shape outside the main door; meanwhile I remained inside, still watching live coverage of the day’s historic events. Finally, at the appointed time (8 PM), the bells in my town fell silent; the church across the street shut off the lights, those in vigil extinguished their candles, and at Castel Gandolfo, the Swiss Guards relinquished their guardposts to the Vatican Gendarmes. The grand wooden portone of the pontifical residence was shut, bringing to a close the luminous pontificate of Benedict XVI.
Hours earlier at the Vatican, meeting his Cardinals in the Sala Clementina for the last time as Pope, he again thanked them for their service to the Church and, with classic Ratzingerian humility, told them:
E tra voi, tra il Collegio Cardinalizio, c’è anche il futuro Papa al quale già oggi prometto la mia incondizionata reverenza ed obbedienza.
And among you, within the College of Cardinals, is also the future Pope, to whom today I already promise my unconditional reverence and obedience.