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Farewell to the Holy Father
as Bishop of Rome and successor of Peter








Photo: Student group and new student group meeting in Castelgandolfo 2012; Michael Hofman


With the resignation of Pope Benedict from the office of Bishop of Rome, the successor of the Apostle Peter, a period of dialogue and closeness for his circle of disciples and his new circle of disciples comes to an end as unexpectedly as it began. At the first audience after taking office, he himself suggested that we meet him in Castelgandolfo. This led to an encounter in the same year, which was then repeated year after year. Of course, at the last meeting he no longer dared to promise his participation in the conference planned for 2013. Maybe that's why he once again interpreted the Word of God for us at the Eucharistic celebration on Sunday and wanted to say goodbye to everyone personally after breakfast. Of course, that couldn't be done after all, since both the student group and the new student group each wanted to give him a book: "The Second Vatican Council. The Hermeneutics of Reform" and "A Hearing Heart. Introduction to the Theology and Spirituality of Joseph Ratzinger/ Pope Benedict XVI.". But probably none of us thought at that moment that our teacher would soon resign.


It makes sense for us to look back at the meetings of those years

The earliest theological talks in Castelgandolfo include two that looked at God as Creator and the question of evolution: in 2006 with Professors Peter Schuster, Paul Erbrich SJ, Robert Spaemann and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn OP as speakers, in 2007 with the professors Ulrich Lüke and Rolf Schönberger. With this, an important theme of the great theme of the relationship between faith and reason was taken into consideration. Personalities from science, philosophy and theology were invited as our discussion partners. In this way, Pope Benedict himself wanted to contribute to our conversations becoming an impetus for theology to turn to this question anew. The book "Creation and Evolution" resulting from the first-mentioned conference was translated into five languages.

The appearance of the first part of the work of Joseph Ratzinger-Benedikt XVI. In 2008, "Jesus of Nazareth" led to a conference with the Protestant exegetes Martin Hengel and Peter Stuhlmacher, in which questions about the historical Jesus and his understanding of death were taken up. Along with Professor Martin Hengel, his student Professor Roland Deins also took part in the meeting. We felt that this conference was particularly important, not only because of the central issue, but also because it was a moving ecumenical encounter. Their results were published under the title "Conversation about Jesus. Pope Benedict in dialogue with Martin Hengel and his disciples in Castelgandolfo".

Closely linked to the question of Jesus Christ were the conferences on the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council and the liturgy, on the church and its mission.  The 2010 meeting "Hermeneutics of the Second Vatican Council", with the President of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, as speaker, was not just for the Council "between tradition and innovation" , but also of the liturgy in the liturgical constitution and in the post-conciliar liturgical reform. The missionary mission of the church today was discussed the year before and the year after: 2009 as a question about the mission - the  mission to the peoples (Ad Gentes) -, 2011 as a question about the new evangelization. In 2009, the Evangelical-Lutheran theologian Professor Peter Beyerhaus and the Catholic Professor Horst Bürkle gave lectures. In 2011, Mr. Otto Neubauer from the Emmanuel Community and Professor Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz spoke from personal experience and from a philosophical point of view.

The last meeting of the circle, which has also included a Lutheran theologian as a guest for years, was devoted entirely to ecumenism – above all the dialogue between the Catholic Church and Lutheranism, but also the dialogue with Anglicanism. The central question was how the fruits of decades of ecumenical discussions can be harvested in the coming years. But at the same time the expectation was raised that the steps toward unity could do much to help the faith flourish in a secularized world. Speakers were Professor Ulrich Wilckens, former Lutheran bishop i. R., and Professor Theodor Dieter and the Catholic bishop Jacques Morerod. This conference was also theologically and spiritually fruitful.  We had already considered an ecumenical conversation with the orthodoxy, but could no longer be defined and carried out.

The very first meeting in Castelgandolfo (2005) was dedicated to the dialogue between Christianity and Islam. The focus was on the Islamic understanding of God and the Islamic understanding of revelation, but also on Islamic ethics. Professors Christian Troll SJ and Samir Khamil Samir SJ gave lectures. The first as well as the last meeting stood in the horizon of the dialogue.
The Holy Father and we were always concerned with a deeper understanding of the Gospel and its breadth in dialogue with the cultures and the questions of the people of our time. This is confirmed in a special way by the choice of the topic of another meeting this year, a topic that is particularly close to the heart of Pope Benedict: the question of God in the horizon of secularization with Professor Remy Brague as speaker.


The sensations that move us at this moment,
are diverse

We students of Joseph Ratzinger certainly feel the farewell of Pope Benedict as successor of the Apostle Peter as very painful at first. We feel the loss. Because he so tirelessly absorbed the Word of God into his mind, heart, and life, he was able to interpret it deeply and believably. As Pope he was even more successful than before in making the gospel shine in a simple, vivid language - for the simple believers as well as for the intellectuals.  He sought ecumenical dialogue with a passionate Love for the Churches and Ecclesial Communities and with great openness to their spiritual richness. We saw how, regardless of himself and in countless encounters, he paved valid paths: the "irrevocable path of dialogue, brotherhood and friendship" with the Jewish people, the path for dialogue with Islam, for fruitful forms of intercultural encounter with the religions, but also for a new dialogue with the enlightened and the secularized society. He wanted to bring the question of God, the question of the living God, who showed his face in Jesus Christ, to the fore as a central task of our time.

Pope Benedict XVI sought to renew the Church from within: through a deeper listening to the Word of God and, above all, through a loving, adoring union with God in the Eucharist. For him, this mystical spirituality was unthinkable without humble openness to people. It lives from the experience and acceptance of God's love and restores the basic mood of joy to faith. It means surrendering to Christ in the certainty that this is precisely the way to win oneself anew. She gave him the courage to exhort young people too: "Dare to be ardent saints, in whose eyes and hearts the love of Christ shines, thus bringing light to the world."

We students of such an outstanding teacher cannot thank the Holy Father enough for the fact that we were able to meet him every year during his pontificate and experience his personal closeness. His bold step to renounce the ministry of Peter fills us not only with sadness, but also with joy that in this way his spiritual greatness has become visible. Even more than before, he has changed from being a teacher to being a witness: in the inner independence of his conscience, which makes the big decisions in the face of God, in the integrity and humility that also certifies the ministry of Peter as serving in the spirit of Jesus, in the willingness to seek God's face in secrecy, silence and worship and thereby to be close to people in a new way.


Symphonic Legacy

Still feeling the pain, but also the grateful joy of this great pontificate, it is now up to us students, especially to us new students, to direct our eyes of faith forward. In the sermon on February 2nd Benedict XVI. invited to renew our faith, which in the power of the Holy Spirit enables us to be pilgrims to the future.  When the Holy Father called us in 2008 as young Catholic and Orthodox theologians and unexpectedly invited us to Castelgandolfo with his students, our publication "Symphony of Faith" had just been published for his 80th birthday. A second followed last year for his 85th birthday entitled "Symphony of the Word". With the breadth, beauty and grandeur of his symphonic thinking, he shaped us like no other. We have been inspired by his theology, it has spurred us on in our own theological thinking and brought deep clarity in the midst of modern secularism. The love of truth, in which he never lost sight of God in all intellectual debates, is his heritage, to which we new students are committed and which we will carry on in the future, both theologically and spiritually. At our last meeting, in 2012 in Castelgandolfo, this was also his testament to us, so to speak: not only to embrace the truth intellectually, but to let it form, guide, drive and penetrate so that it can become powerful over us "and through gives us power in the world".
Thank you Holy Father!


For the student group: Stephan O. Horn SDS
For the new student group: Michaela C. Hastetter and Christoph Ohly

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