top of page


Meeting of the student groups in Castelgandolfo 2012

Harvest the fruits:
Foundations of Christian Faith in Ecumenical Dialogue








student circle

Pope Benedict XVI met for the eighth time since the beginning of his pontificate. At the beginning of September in Castelgandolfo with his student group and for the fifth time with the "New Student Group".
Like the conferences that have been held for more than three decades, this meeting also meant an exchange with high-ranking scientists, especially theologians, on current questions of faith and theology.

The topic was: Ecumenical results and questions in conversation with Lutheranism and Anglicanism, especially with a view to "Harvesting the fruits. Foundations of Christian faith in ecumenical dialogue". With regard to Lutheranism, two Evangelical-Lutheran theologians were invited as speakers.
bishop i R. Prof. em. Ulrich Wilckens, and Prof. Theodor Dieter, Director of the Strasbourg Institute for Ecumenical Research, in view of Anglicanism the Catholic Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, Prof. em. Charles Morerod.

But the meeting was more than a theological, ecumenical discussion. Like the earlier conferences of the circle, it also had a spiritual character through the daily celebration of the Eucharist, which must not be without a sermon, and through the Church's praise of God in the morning and evening. At the beginning of the meeting, Bishop Barthélemy Adoukonou, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture and member of the Disciples, presided for the first time as bishop in our midst of the Eucharist, on Saturday Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Council for Christian Unity, celebrated the holy mass with us. On Sunday, Pope Benedict himself presided over the celebration of the Eucharist and explained the Word of God to us in a moving way.

For Benedict XVI and his students have also given these conferences a very personal touch over the years. When he greets us, he has a little conversation with each of us, in which he is interested in everything we tell him and what moves us; At the New Student Circle he is particularly interested in finding out something about the status of the scientific work of the young theologians. In the past, as a cardinal, he always reserved time for personal discussions at such meetings, since one or the other wanted to discuss special concerns or joys with him.

Such days also get the character of a spiritually influenced meeting because, before meeting the Holy Father, we exchange views on our own theological work, important experiences and pastoral experiences in the past year. For many years, Pope Benedict has also been reporting on events that particularly moved him in the past year. This time he spoke mainly about the trips to Benin, Mexico and Cuba, but also about the meeting of the families in Milan. During these encounters he experienced something of the believers' joy in faith, but also of their gratitude to be able to meet the Vicar of Christ. It was experience that encouraged him.

This year's conference got a special accent with the delivery of two books to our master. The gift from the student group was the proceedings of the 2010 meeting entitled "The Second Vatican Council. The Hermeneutics of Reform" (Augsburg 2012), the gift from the new student group was the proceedings of a symposium in Freiburg i.Br. on the topic "A listening heart. Introduction to the theology and spirituality of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI." (Ratzinger Studies 5, Regensburg 2012).

Incidentally, as spokesman for the new student circle,
PD PD Dr. Michaela C. Hastetter and Professor Christoph Ohly were able to present a contribution to the council anniversary as a joint work of this group on their 85th birthday: "Symphony of the Word. Contributions to the Revealed Constitution 'Dei Verbum' in the Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue. Commemoration of the New Student Group for the 85th birthday by Pope Benedict XVI (St. Ottilien 2012) The group of students had been able to give the Pope a particularly valuable gift of thanks at the meeting in Castelgandolfo three years earlier: the large bibliography by Joseph Ratzinger "Das Werk. Publications up to the papal election. Bibliographic aid for the development of the literary and theological work of Joseph Ratzinger up to the papal election", edited by his recently deceased student Professor Vinzenz Pfnür (Augsburg 2009).

On Sunday afternoon, participants from both student groups experienced a remarkable dialogue with the two Evangelical-Lutheran theologians, former bishop professor em. Ulrich Wilckens and Professor Theodor Dieter. It was a conversation characterized by genuine sincerity, in the spirit of our theological teacher Joseph Ratzinger, in whose school a spirituality of theological discourse also matured. It can be characterized in a few key words as follows: on the one hand full freedom of expression, attention to the contribution of others, but above all a search for the truth, on the other hand a theological effort based on Holy Scripture and the Fathers of the Church, an openness to all great theology, thinking along with the church and at the same time listening to the questions of the time and their insights that are worth considering. So we are grateful for the words of former bishop Wilckens, who said of the ecumenical exchange at this year's meeting that it was "spiritually great conversations".

It seems natural to add a word about the New Circle of Disciples. It is ultimately due to the willingness of the group of students to carry the theology of their master into the future, to keep it alive and let it become fruitful. Its emergence is therefore linked to the founding of the "Joseph Ratzinger Pope Benedict Foundation", which pursues precisely these goals. Pope Benedict vigorously approved the idea of founding such a group of young students. Since 2008, the circle, which now has 30 members, has taken part in the meetings in Castelgandolfo, although the theological dialogue with the Holy Father takes place within the framework of the group of students who could be called his theological family: the group of doctoral and post-doctoral students who he accompanied as doctoral supervisor in Bonn, Münster, Tübingen and Regensburg and who met there for the first time in 1978. The members of the New Student Circle are selected young scholars from different countries and continents, whose work focuses in particular on the theology of Joseph Ratzinger. Three new members were introduced this year: Mary McCaughy (Ireland), Stefanos Athanasiou (Greek Orthodox, currently Switzerland) and Anthony Valle (USA, currently Germany).

Fr Dr Stephen Otto Horn


Photos: Board of Trustees, student group conference, meeting with the Pope












The New Student Circle 2012 in Castel Gandolfo

Ecumenism was the topic

After the new student group Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. held his annual meeting in Trier on the occasion of the Holy Robe Pilgrimage in April 2012, the invitation of the Holy Father led the young scientists from August 31 to September 3, 2012 again to the annual student group meeting at the Pope's residence in Castelgandolfo (Italy).

The subject that Pope Benedict XVI. had chosen for the conference with his former students, doctoral candidates and habilitation candidates was "ecumenism"; The focus here was on the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Lutherans and Anglicans. The new student group also addressed this topic.

The retired Protestant bishop Prof. em. Ulrich Wilckens; the director of the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, Prof. Theodor Dieter, and the Catholic Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, Prof. Charles Morerod OP. The new group of students was also very pleased that Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who is very close to the young theologians, also took part in the conference.

As usual, Friday evening was used for an initial exchange and organizational matters. The planned next annual meeting in Regensburg from April 12th to 14th, 2013, as well as possible publications and activities related to the "Year of Faith" and beyond, have already been thought about and discussed.

As usual, Saturday was dedicated to scientific exchange. While the group of students met together with the Holy Father, Bishop Wilckens, Professor Dieter and Bishop Morerod in the papal residence, the young theologians were able to discuss the texts of the speakers at the same time. The conference participants had previously exchanged their own ecumenical experiences. The whole thing was rounded off by a presentation by the spokesman for the new student group, Prof. Dr. Christoph Ohly, on the Anglican Church.

Finally, on Sunday, the new student group came together in a large group with the student group and the speakers for a constructive discussion about their presentations and ecumenism in general, which was characterized by a shared joy in dialogue and truth, despite different denominational backgrounds. This conversation was made possible on Sunday afternoon, after the Holy Father personally greeted the members of the New Circle of Disciples after the Angelus prayer. During the Holy Mass on Sunday morning, Pope Benedict gave a very profound and thought-provoking sermon, which went straight to the heart of everyone present and remained an inspiring topic of conversation for a long time after the subsequent breakfast together.

The good conversations and friendly relations between the two groups of students were further strengthened this year through shared meals and discussions in the Centro Mariapoli throughout the weekend. The New Student Circle has vivid and grateful memories of this meeting and is already looking forward – God willing – to seeing you again in 2013.


Stephen Ahrens

Photos: Mass, shared meal, thanksgiving and congratulations, introduction of new NSC members , Angelus, meeting with the Holy Father

















Photos: Michael Hofmann

bottom of page