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Pope emeritus Benedict has died, funeral set for 5 January

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has paid tribute to the extraordinary life and figure of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI following his death in Rome on 31 December. A remarkable life has come to its worldly end as the beloved pope emeritus enters into eternal life following a lifetime spent in the service of Jesus and the Church

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Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd during a general audience in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 17 November 2010. Photo: CNS, Paul Haring

United with Pope Francis and Christians throughout the world, the Church in Sydney and Australia mourns the passing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, one of the greatest theologian-popes in the Church’s two-thousand-year history, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP said following the news of the death of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI on 31 December in Rome.

Archbishop Fisher met the pope and then former pope on a number of occasions, especially during his visit to Australia for World Youth Day in 2008 when then-Auxiliary Bishop Fisher was coordinator of the global meeting of the successor to Peter with huge numbers of young people from Australia and around the globe.

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“For more than 70 years, as priest-theologian, bishop-pastor, cardinal-prefect, teacher-pope and finally pope-emeritus, Joseph Ratzinger selflessly served Christ and his Church,” he said.

“A man of towering intellect and deep piety, he was influential as a peritus (expert adviser) at the Second Vatican Council and in the subsequent interpretation and implementation of the Council.

“As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he was a close collaborator with Pope John Paul II and shared his enthusiasm for a “new evangelisation”, as much directed toward disconnected Christians as to those who have not yet heard the Gospel.

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he departs an appreciation ceremony for World Youth Day volunteers in Sydney, Australia on 21 July 2008. Then-Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Fisher OP, the coordinator of World Youth Day, is at right. Photo: CNS, Paul Haring

“He was elected Pope in 2005 at a stage of life when most would expect to be retiring. He humbly accepted the decision of the conclave and embraced the task, giving himself to teaching through homilies and writings, to pastoral journeys around the globe, and to initiating important reforms in the Church, including in the area of child protection.

“Having spent himself in these efforts for eight years, he retired in 2013, devoting himself to praying for the Church.

“Whilst saddened by his death, we can all be grateful for the blessing of his long life and the lasting contribution he made to our faith.

“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.

Pope Benedict XVI greets World Youth Day pilgrims in Sydney on 17 July 2008. Behind him is Cardinal George Pell, then archbishop of Sydney. Photo: CNS, Paul Haring

“Pope Benedict’s connection to Australia was strengthened in 2010, when he canonised St Mary of the Cross Mackillop as Australia’s first recognised saint.

“In his homily he spoke of the importance of prayerful teachers in leading people to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Like Mary Mackillop, Benedict XVI led many people to Christ by his teaching and example.

“He was surely one of the finest minds and most faithful souls to fill the chair of St Peter in the last two millennia. His unique command of the truths of Christian doctrine and his singular ability to make those truths come alive homiletically and catechetically were a great gift to the Church in troubled times. As a great lover of the Sacred Liturgy his profound theology was developed not in his desk chair so much as on his knees.

“Again and again, Pope Benedict called us back to the foundations of our faith in the Holy Scriptures and Tradition, the Word of God alive and active in our day, ever ancient and ever new. He was convinced that Catholic truth speaks volumes to our times and hundreds of those volumes were his own.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP visits Pope emeritus Benedict during the last ad limina visit of Australia’s bishops to the Vatican in 2019. Photo: courtesy, Archbishop Fisher

“His writings have already inspired generations and will undoubtedly be studied for centuries to come. As with St John Paul II, I think we can expect that Pope Benedict will one day be acknowledged as a Doctor of the Church.

“At his election as Pope in 2005, Benedict famously referred to himself as “a simple and humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord” and entrusted himself to the prayers of the faithful. I witnessed that simplicity and humility—indeed real holiness—up close on several occasions. Today the universal Church prays that that humble servant of the Lord, Benedict XVI, be welcomed into the loving embrace of the God he served so well.”

Just a few hours after retired Pope Benedict XVI died in his Vatican residence on 31 December, Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, provided a few early details of what to expect in the coming days.

The 95-year-old pope’s remains will be in St Peter’s Basilica beginning the morning of 2 January for people to pay their last respects and offer their prayers, he said. The funeral Mass, presided over by Pope Francis, will be in St Peter’s Square on 5 January starting at 9:30 am Rome time.

While he did not offer precise details as to what the funeral Mass of a retired pope will look like, Bruni said that Pope Benedict wanted his funeral and related events to be carried out “in a sign of simplicity.”

Bruni also said the retired pope received the sacrament of the anointing of the sick on 28 December, the day Pope Francis told people Pope Benedict was “very sick” and in need of prayers.

“Ask the Lord to console him and sustain him in his witness of love for the church until the very end,” Pope Francis had said at the end of his general audience.

Before the funeral, Bruni added, all scheduled events at the Vatican were to continue as planned, such as Pope Francis’ evening celebration of vespers and the recitation of the Te Deum on 31 December.

Contributing to this story was Carol Glatz in Rome

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