One year ago, Pope Benedict XVI carried out what will surely go down in history as the most radical act of his pontificate: leaving it. It was this startling act – the first papal resignation in six centuries – that made possible the next great surprise: the election of his successor, the first pope to take the name Francis.
It is not necessary to pretend there are no differences between the two popes in order to recognize the connection between these two events, or to appreciate the complementary gifts that both have contributed to the Church. And despite the stark and even antagonistic contrasts that have been drawn between them, for Benedict himself, seeing the charismatic leadership of Pope Francis has affirmed to him that his resignation was the will of God – a ringing affirmation that he has reaffirmed more recently, dismissing suggestions that the resignation had not been truly voluntary (and thereby expressing support for his successor over some of the Church’s right-fringe voices).
A year after Pope Emeritus Benedict’s historic exit, I remain grateful for this culmination of his service to the Church in a courageous act of radical humility that has also given us the great gift of Pope Francis.