January 6, 2023

Pope Benedict’s special focus on God’s love surprised and inspired local Catholics

By John Shaughnessy

David Siler will always remember the moment when he was surprised and inspired by Pope Benedict XVI.

It came in 2005 when Pope Benedict shared his first encyclical with the world—“Deus Caritas Est” (“God Is Love”)—the papal letter that totally changed Siler’s initial impression of the then-recently elected pope.

“My great love for him started with that encyclical. I was the executive director for Catholic Charities in the archdiocese at the time,” recalls Siler who served in that role from 2003-2016. “The encyclical perfectly captured the essence of God, which is love.

“I remember being at a Catholic Charities national conference, and we were all responding about how it was such a surprise, coming from this seemingly stoic German. You wouldn’t have expected such a soft letter. I’ve reflected on it many times.”

While the news of Pope Emeritus Benedict’s death on Dec. 31, 2022, at the age of 95 saddened Siler, it also brought back wonderful memories from the pope’s visit to Washington in April of 2008—a time when Siler experienced two of the most amazing moments he’s known as a Catholic.

A member of St. Matthew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis, Siler was part of the crowd that stood on the South Lawn of the White House, welcoming Pope Benedict to the United States as part of a group from Catholic Charities USA.

A day later, Siler was just 20 rows from the pope, part of the crowd of 46,000 people who filled Nationals Park for the first public Mass of the pope’s pilgrimage to the United States.

“It was an incredibly powerful experience. It was a highlight of my spiritual life,” Siler says. “Just being in the presence of so many people who wanted to spend time with the pope celebrating the Mass. I never expected to share a Mass with a pope. You just felt you were on holy ground.”

Ever since, Siler’s career choices have been influenced by those experiences and that first encyclical by Pope Benedict. He currently serves as the executive director of the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas, an organization that connects parishes in the United States with needy parishes in Haiti and Latin America.

“My career choices have all been connected to service,” he says. “It seems like a great response to the encyclical. I get to invite people to share the love of God with many people in the world, especially Haiti and Latin America.”

‘I always thought that was a brave thing he did’

Annette “Mickey” Lentz had a similar reaction of being inspired and surprised by Pope Benedict when she was among a select group chosen to meet with him during his 2008 visit to Washington.

She was a part of a group of about 350 individuals that represented the most influential people in Catholic education in the United States. At the time, Lentz was the executive director of Catholic Education and Faith Formation for the archdiocese.

As she prepared to meet him for the first time, Lentz had an image of Pope Benedict as being “stoic and less personal”—an image that changed quickly when he stood in front of her.

“The way he shook your hand and looked you in the eyes made a great impression. He had a warm, fuzzy tone that surprised me,” she says. “He talked with me about the importance of Catholic education and lifelong formation. He was genuine and authentic, and he was very grateful for my service.”

Lentz was also thankful for Pope Benedict’s stunning, historic decision to resign as pope in 2013, citing his physical and mental limitations to lead the Church as he thought it should be led.

“He was the first in centuries to retire. I admired him for that,” says Lentz, the chancellor emeritus of the archdiocese who retired in September of 2021 after serving the archdiocese for 60 years. “Sometimes you know it’s your time. I always thought that was a brave thing he did.”

The pursuit of truth and a relationship with Christ

Benedictine Sister Anne Frederick never had the opportunity to meet Pope Benedict, but she has felt a closeness to him through her extensive reading of his writings.

That connection began when she heard Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, during his tenure as archbishop of Indianapolis, refer to a 2010 address by Pope Benedict.

“I remember [then] Archbishop Tobin commenting that it would go down in history as one of the greatest papal addresses, and I knew that I needed to track this down,” says Sister Anne, the formation director of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove and a teacher at St. Roch School in Indianapolis.

“Pope Benedict was gracious, wise and brilliant in his comments as he spoke of the legitimate role of religion in the public square—a religion purified by reason which could speak to the common good and the dignity of all individuals. He was applying Catholic social teachings to the role of government.”

She views Pope Benedict as “a master theologian who has left a treasure to the Church in his writings.”

Even more, she views his legacy as leading to the universal goal that connects all people of faith.

“As a theology student at Saint Meinrad, I found his writings accessible,” she says. “I appreciated so much his teachings on the Eucharist and the pursuit of truth, and his understanding of our faith as first and primarily a relationship with Jesus Christ.” †


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