Pope Benedict’s Death Is the End of an Era

As the world mourns the passing of Pope Benedict XVI, we see not just the end of the life of a true holy man and brilliant theologian but also the end of an era — his collaboration with Pope Francis. 

When Pope Francis released his very first encyclical, “Lumen Fidei” (The Light of Faith), in 2013, it was described as the “work of two hands.” Although begun by Pope Benedict, Pope Francis took the encyclical letter, completed it, and truly made it his own. 

In a way, that’s what happened in the Church after the resignation of Pope Benedict from the papacy in a remarkable act of humility and self-awareness on February 13, 2013. 

Pope Benedict created the role of “Pope Emeritus” for himself and, for almost 10 years, allowed his ministry to be that of prayer and contemplation. While we will have to see if this role of Pope Emeritus is ever used again, the precedent has been set. 

On Wednesday, March 13, 2013, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected by the College of Cardinals as the Holy Father. He took the title of Pope Francis and began his active Petrine ministry, in which we still rejoice today. 

Pope Francis has reinvigorated the world’s interest in the papacy, but perhaps more importantly, in God and the things of God. Pope Francis has brought attention back to the Holy in a world awash in secularism. 

There is no room for the concept of a “dual Papacy.” Clearly, there is only one vicar of Christ on Earth, one pontiff, and that is Pope Francis. In fact, Pope Benedict XVI was emphatic about this during his lifetime. But what Pope Francis has done, in large part, is build on the prayers and good example left by Pope Benedict. 

However, the presence of Pope Benedict and his more conservative doctrine and teachings gave the Vatican a complementary voice to Pope Francis’ more liberal leanings. The balanced voices were a blessing for the Church for almost a decade. 

The emeritus title has opened the door for future popes to perhaps take Pope Benedict’s tact of being in the background while also influencing the debate and the philosophical conversation. Pope Benedict continued to make contributions well after he wasn’t fit to carry out the day-to-day tasks of a pope. 

In this modern age, it may be a good idea in the future. 

If anyone had thought that Pope Benedict was an unpopular pope, they were proven wrong by the sheer number of people who turned out for his visitation in Saint Peter’s Basilica and his funeral Mass in Piazza San Pietro. 

What was amazing was the number of young priests concelebrating the funeral Mass. Some estimates claim that 80% of the concelebrants were under the age of 50. 

What can we take from the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI? Perhaps we can propose three things: first, love theology; second, love the liturgy; third, love the Lord. 

God bless Pope Benedict and God bless Pope Francis.