February 15, 2013

Local Church reflects on legacy of Pope Benedict XVI

Providence Sister Denise Wilkinson, general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Philip McCord and Providence Sister Marie Kevin Tighe offer gifts to Pope Benedict XVI during the canonization liturgy for four saints, including Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin, on Oct. 15, 2006, at St. Peter’s Square in Rome. (Photo by Kelly Wilkinson/The Indianapolis Star)

Providence Sister Denise Wilkinson, general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Philip McCord and Providence Sister Marie Kevin Tighe offer gifts to Pope Benedict XVI during the canonization liturgy for four saints, including Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin, on Oct. 15, 2006, at St. Peter’s Square in Rome. (Photo by Kelly Wilkinson/The Indianapolis Star)

By Sean Gallagher, Natalie Hoefer and John Shaughnessy

Like most people around the world, Catholics in the archdiocese initially reacted with surprise and shock to the news that Pope Benedict XVI had decided to resign on Feb. 28.

Then the reactions turned into thoughtful reflections about the pope who has led the Church for nearly eight years, the 85-year-old pontiff whose decision was based on his advancing age and his declining strength and energy. (Related: More coverage of the papal transition)

A priest who was named a bishop by Pope Benedict talked about his deep appreciation for the pontiff.

A young adult who remembered being inspired by the pope at a World Youth Day recalled how Pope Benedict fueled his faith.

An 82-year-old woman who understands the challenges of aging admired the pope for doing what he considers best for the Church.

A religious sister remembered Pope Benedict for declaring Mother Theodore Guérin a saint—the first saint from Indiana.

Their memories and their thoughts are just part of the reactions from Catholics across central and southern Indiana. Here is a sampling of those reactions.

At heart, a humble theologian

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne will always have a deep appreciation for Pope Benedict XVI for appointing him as a bishop in 2011.

The auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis also has a deep respect for Pope Benedict, whom he visited in Rome with other bishops from the Midwest in 2012.

“He’s a very gentle, soft-spoken man who really at heart is a humble theologian and academician,” Bishop Coyne noted. “He was also somebody who was willing to say yes to—what is to me—the most difficult and challenging job in the Church.”

That respect and appreciation showed as Bishop Coyne considered Pope Benedict’s decision to resign.

“It took a lot of integrity on the part of the Holy Father that he was able to be courageous enough to really set aside hundreds of years of practice,” Bishop Coyne said. “How many of us can say that at 85 we would have the energy necessary to govern such a huge reality as the Church, and also keep the schedule that is demanded of the pope?

“The fact now that he has realized that he just doesn’t have the energy or the strength to do it well is a sad moment for us, but it also shows that he is a man of integrity who places the needs of the Church above any desire whatsoever for position for the sake of position.”

‘The youth of the pope!’

Although Pope Benedict is more than 60 years older than Nick Lesch, he felt a heartfelt connection to the pontiff when he attended World Youth Day in Madrid in 2011.

“In Madrid, we went around chanting, ‘Esta es la joventud de papa!’ ‘This is the youth of the pope!’ ” said Lesch, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. “It was something so joyful that we shouted it out in the streets of Madrid. Wherever you went, you heard that echoing through the streets. It was so beautiful.”

Pope Benedict’s influence has continued to shape Lesch’s life and faith.

“His appreciation of knowledge and truth is so beautiful,” said Lesch, a 21-year-old junior at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) who is majoring in biology and hoping to attend medical school. “It’s inspired me to work harder in my studies—and not just academically, but also spiritually. I’ve grown and read more [about the faith].”

‘Given all he could give’

At 82, Maxine Ferguson understands the challenges of aging that Pope Benedict faces. Even more, she admires his decision to do what he considers best for the Church.

“I think he felt he has given all he could give, and he wants to put the Church in hands that could keep it going up,” said Ferguson, a member of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis. “He did what he thought was best, in his heart, for his physical well-being and the Church.”

‘I sensed a gentleness about him’

Providence Sister Denise Wilkinson remembers her brief encounter with Pope Benedict when she gave him a gift from the Sisters of Providence at the time of Mother Theodore’s canonization in 2006.

“I was struck then by how kind a countenance he has,” recalled Sister Denise, general superior of the Sisters of Providence at Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods. “I sensed a gentleness about him.”

From watching older religious sisters, she understands the pope’s decision to step down because of declining energy—and how difficult a decision that is to make.

“I do know from our sisters that making the decision to accept the reality of having less physical, mental and emotional stamina is a difficult and painful one,” she said. “It involves a letting go of who we have been and what we’ve been able to do.

“I also know that letting go almost always results in a spiritual deepening and renewal, and an ability to minister to others by being good listeners and caring presences to those around them. I am confident the pope will experience this renewal as well.”

‘It’s time now for him to rest’

Father John Hollowell remembers exactly what he did on the day Pope Benedict XVI was elected in 2005.

“I did not know much of Pope Benedict before he was elected pope, but the day he was elected, I ran down to the bookstore at Saint Meinrad [Seminary and School of Theology] and picked up a couple of his books that he’d written as Cardinal Ratzinger,” recalled Father Hollowell, pastor of Annunciation of the Blessed Mary Parish in Brazil. “After a few days of reading, I realized why the Holy Spirit had chosen him to be our next pope.

“First of all, his writing is brilliant, and he is well-versed in nearly every subject under the sun. He has a great love for scripture, for dogma, for evangelization, for the liturgy, for social teaching. Secondly, despite the way that he is often portrayed in the media, his compassion and his love shine forth in everything that he writes, everything that he says, and everything that he does.”

The pope’s decision to resign left Father Hollowell with mixed emotions.

“I was surprised, first of all. Secondly, I felt a lot of relief for Pope Benedict. He had desired to retire almost 20 years ago, but John Paul II requested that he continue working for the Church, and so he did faithfully. Thirdly, and selfishly, there was a small bit of sadness simply because I enjoyed Pope Benedict’s writings and everything about his leadership. But he has already sacrificed so much for us, and I know it’s time now for him to rest.”

‘He stayed true to who he was’

For Jake Firestine, one of the true signs of Pope Benedict’s character showed in how he didn’t try to imitate the charismatic nature of his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II.

“I really, really respected that about him,” said Firestine, a Fellowship of Catholic University Students missionary at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. “He was more of a listener. Knowing who he was and knowing that he wasn’t going to be John Paul II, he was true to who he was. That was the biggest mark that he left on me. He stayed true to who he was.”

A lesson in hope and humility

Franciscan Sister Maureen Irvin believes that Pope Benedict’s decision to resign offers a lesson in humility and hope for people of faith.

“He is recognizing that no one is really indispensable and that we can assess our gifts and talents, our strengths and weaknesses, and know whether it might be time to let go of a particular position or ministry, and pass it on to someone else,” said Sister Maureen, congregational minister of the Oldenburg Franciscans.

“I think that the Holy Father is showing us, too, that who we are is not necessarily our occupation or our ministry. Who we are is our person and our relationship with God. We can give up a position—even one of importance or power—and still have infinite value in the eyes of God, and should have it in the eyes of one another as well.”

A decision reached in peace

While Pope Benedict’s decision startled many people, “it should not come as a complete surprise,” according to Benedictine Archabbot Justin DuVall, leader of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad.

“He has examined his conscience before God and reached the decision with peace,” Archabbot Justin said. “Pope Benedict is a man of faith. I think his decision is an act of faith and the realization that the Church is the work of the Holy Spirit. May God now bless Pope Benedict with peace of mind and heart.”

Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein, who now resides at Saint Meinrad Archabbey, agreed.

“Pope Benedict XVI has been a sure, valiant and serene servant of the truth of the faith of the Church, and I pray with admiration and gratitude for him in what he calls ‘the last stage of his life,’ ” he said.

Stoking a fire in the soul

Pope Benedict played a key role in the vocation of transitional Deacon Douglas Marcotte—an archdiocesan seminarian receiving his priestly formation in Rome at the Pontifical North American College.

“When I first got serious about my faith, I read [then] Cardinal [Joseph] Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity.

“The fire for my own vocation to the priesthood was stoked in my soul as I sat with hundreds of thousands of young people in Cologne [Germany in 2005] for World Youth Day, and listened to our new Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.”

Deacon Marcotte, who is scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood on May 18 in Indianapolis, has met the pope.

“It was truly one of the great pleasures of my life, meeting the Holy Father during the ad limina visit last February and speaking briefly with him about my seminary education.”

He also served at a liturgy for the Holy Father during a Mass of Thanksgiving for the new cardinals that the pope created in February 2012.

“Many of [those cardinals] will now be part of the conclave that will elect his successor.”

‘It’s been a phenomenal pontificate’

Father Dennis Duvelius, pastor of St. Mark Parish in Perry County and St. Paul Parish in Tell City, learned about Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement of his resignation like many others did in this digital age—he read about it on the Internet.

“I was bowled over,” Father Duvelius said. “I think it’s been a phenomenal pontificate. There were many people who were skeptical of him when he was elected. He definitely rose to the office very well and accomplished good things.”

The importance of prayer

“I know an important decision like this comes only after prayerful discernment,” said Benedictine Sister Juliann Babcock, prioress of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove.

“The office and duties of the pope are so important in the life of our Church and our world that I assume Pope Benedict, in his wisdom, felt his health was keeping him from being able to continue his work.

“Our community began praying for Pope Benedict and the College of Cardinals during our intercessions at Morning Prayer [on Feb. 11]. We will continue to hold not only the pope and cardinals in prayer, but all people of faith who rely upon the Church to be the hands and hearts of Christ.”

Faith in God’s will

“I was surprised, but I felt confident that the pope made the decision that he thought was right,” said Elizabeth Fish, a member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis. “I have faith in God’s will for a new pope. I don’t think it’s a cause for alarm. I’m interested to see what happens next.”

‘It shows the depth of his faith’

During a Feb. 11 Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis, permanent Deacon Stephen Hodges reflected in a homily on Pope Benedict’s decision to resign.

“I think that shows great humility on the part of our pope. And it shows the depth of his faith as well,” said Deacon Hodges, who ministers at SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood.

“I know some people are shocked by the news. But trust me, my friends, the Holy Spirit is in control. Let’s pray for Pope Benedict and pray for the College of Cardinals as they elect his successor.” †


(For more information about the papal transition, log on to www.archindy.org/pope.)

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