Eyewitness Account: The Pope Resigns

A year ago today I woke up to find that Pope Benedict had resigned. I jumped out of bed and began blogging about the event. History was being made. In an astounding act of humility the world’s most influential religious leader walked away from it all. This excellent article by Scottish Archbishop Cushley chronicles the days events from a personal eyewitness point of view.

There was no indication that this day was going to be any different. It was also a holiday, and although the rest of the Curia was enjoying a rest, the few people around the person of the Holy Father, including myself, were to be on duty in the Apostolic Palace’s Sala del Concistoro to welcome him as he went to pray with the cardinals present in Rome and to go through the short ceremony.

The Holy Father then took the floor. This was the first time I had sat in a consistory, so I had no idea if this was normal or not. He spoke in Latin, so a greater effort than normal was going to be required by all of us – Italian being the normal language of the Curia – so a little strain was evident as we tried to grasp where he was going.

Within seconds it was clear what was happening. This was no ordinary address. He did not speak about the consistory and the soon-to-be saints, or a few changes in administration, or the anniversary of the Lateran treaties, or the end of the historic dispute with Italy. Instead, he made history.

Archbishop Cushley goes on to describe the events as they unfolded from his position inside the Vatican. Read the whole fascinating article here.

With Archbishop  Cushley we watched with sadness as Pope Benedict was whisked off to Castel Gandolfo and over the next weeks I went on to write a regular column for Aleteia on the potential choices to replace Benedict. What a stellar collection of holy, talented and outstanding individuals! Then as we saw Pope Francis appear on the balcony the one drama ended and another began. Pope Francis has captivated the imagination of the church and the world in the first year of his pontificate.

As the world shrinks with increased global communication and mobility the power and influence of the Catholic Church and the papacy is stronger than ever before. At the turn of the twentieth century it might have been assumed that the medieval court of the Roman pontiff was an archaic institution about to wither and die. Then along comes Bl.Pope John XXIII, the Second Vatican Council, huge reform and revolution within the church itself, and out of the flames comes Bl.JohnPaul II, Benedict and now Francis. The world stage for the pope is huge and his platform gigantic.

History will show just how important the shy theologian from Bavaria was in all of this. Behind the scenes with John Paul, crafting the theology and defending the faith, and then taking over the white cassock for eight years, he will be seen as the supporting act for two world level popes–the strong and faithful support for two charismatic leaders–reminding us of the constant need for balance. The extrovert needs the introvert. The charismatic needs the intellectual, the Franciscan needs the Benedictine as the branches of the tree need roots.

God bless Pope Emeritus Benedict. I miss him.

UPDATE: John Allen has his usual sharp analysis here explaining how Pope Benedict’s resignation was the truly humble and revolutionary act that set the stage for the papacy of Francis.