Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has arrived in Rome prior to the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, which will be celebrated at 7:30pm AEDT on Thursday, 05 January.
Archbishop Fisher paid his respects with thousands of other mourners and remained in prayer with the reposed Pope Emeritus, whose body has been lying in state in St Peter’s Basilica.
Archbishop Fisher said in a statement prior to departing for Rome that the Pope Emeritus “selflessly served Christ and his Church” for seven decades and was remembered fondly by Australians.
“Pope Benedict XVI holds a special place in the hearts of Catholics in Australia where he is remembered as ‘the World Youth Day Pope’. In 2008 he gathered with hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims in our harbour city for catechesis and worship.
“He was received by the young people as a loving spiritual grandfather and 14 years later we are still reaping the fruits of that visit.
“In addition to his beautiful preaching at that time, I have many happy memories of private moments with Pope Benedict then and later as he reminisced about his time with us.”
Other Australian Archbishops have also offered their reflections on the death of the Pope Emeritus.
Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, paid tribute to Benedict XVI’s gentleness, humility and unwavering dedication, in a reflection published on 4 January.
“When Pope Benedict decided to resign from his role as Bishop of Rome and head of the Catholic Church, many people were surprised, and not a few were disturbed or even dismayed … Why, many people asked, did Pope Benedict not do the same [as Pope St John Paul II]?
“With hindsight, of course, we now see that there are many ways to give witness to the mystery of the Christian faith.
“If Pope St John Paul II was a living symbol of the dignity and meaning of human life, even when it is diminished by illness and suffering, Pope Benedict, especially through his resignation, became a living symbol of that humility and detachment which are equally part of the mystery of Christian faith.
“In imitation of his Lord, Pope Benedict did not cling to his position of importance and of influence.
“Rather, “he emptied himself”, freely surrendered his important and influential position, and retired to the relative obscurity of life in a small monastery in the grounds of the Vatican Gardens.
“This was not the act of a proud and grasping man, and much less that of a coward. Rather, it was the act of a man of profound integrity who realised, much like St John the Baptist, that he must grow smaller and fade away, so that the person, the mission, and the teaching of Jesus might more clearly be seen as the heart and soul of the life of the Church.”
The Archbishop of Adelaide, Patrick O’Regan, said he had been inspired by the “clarity and inspiration” of the Pope Emeritus’ writings since his seminary days, particularly the Jesus of Nazareth series and his 2007 encyclical Spe Salvi.
“In speaking of the last three popes it has often been said that people came to see Pope John Paul II; to listen to Benedict XVI and to be with Pope Francis,” Archbishop O’Regan said.
The Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, posted a thread on Twitter asking whether the Papacy had been more of an imprisonment than a liberation for Benedict XVI.
“It’s said that when interviewed before being named Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby was asked whether, if he were appointed, he would find it an imprisonment or a liberation…he decided for a liberation and got the job,” Archbishop Coleridge tweeted.
“As the Italians say, Se non è vero è ben trovato…even if the story is apocryphal the question is excellent: high office can be an imprisonment or a liberation or a bit of both.
“For Benedict XVI the papacy seemed an imprisonment, the job looked almost undoable and resignation was like getting out of gaol … that was the liberation.
“By contrast the papacy for Francis has seemed a liberation … allowing him to emerge in quite different ways than he did as Archbishop of Buenos Aires and making the job seem eminently doable.
“Retirement for Benedict may have become another kind of imprisonment but we pray now as the end approaches that he will find a final liberation … and peace on the way.”