January 13, 2023

Pope inspired, influenced and blessed members of the archdiocese

In this July 17, 2008, photo from World Youth Day (WYD) in Sydney, Australia, Trina Trusty and Father Jonathan Meyer hold up four fingers indicating their fourth attendance at a WYD gathering. The late Pope Benedict XVI was present for WYD 2005, 2008 and 2011. (File photo)

In this July 17, 2008, photo from World Youth Day (WYD) in Sydney, Australia, Trina Trusty and Father Jonathan Meyer hold up four fingers indicating their fourth attendance at a WYD gathering. The late Pope Benedict XVI was present for WYD 2005, 2008 and 2011. (File photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

Upon learning of the death of Pope Benedict XVI on Dec. 31, 2022, The Criterion put out a call on social media for reflections regarding the late pope.

The submissions received reveal a pope whose writings and teachings drew one man back to the Church, helped one woman grow and mature in her faith, inspired a theology teacher and provided a perpetual blessing for a couple and all who enter their home.

Their reflections are shared below.

His writings ‘led me back to the faith’

Michael Skaggs was a sophomore at Indiana University and worshipping at St. Paul Catholic Center and St. Charles Borromeo Parish, both in Bloomington, when he was “seriously questioning what my path forward should look like, discerning the priesthood or marriage,” he said.

It was a confusing time, Skaggs recalled, and he “essentially stopped practicing the faith.”

Skaggs sought out resources to help during this “space of discernment.” It was then that he encountered the writings of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, particularly his books Jesus of Nazareth and Introduction to Christianity.

“Benedict’s writing on faith, reason and God’s love for each of us as individuals—on Christianity as an encounter with the person of Christ rather than a system or structure—led me back to the faith and into my vocation of married and parenting life,” said Skaggs, who now worships with his family at St. Matthew Cathedral Parish in South Bend, Ind., in the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese.

“The broader media narrative around him seemed to always focus on a few countercultural issues,” said Skaggs. “But when you read what he wrote, this was a man deeply in love with Jesus Christ, and he wanted others to feel the same way.

“His message was that Christianity was an encounter with the Christian community and with the Lord himself. This was at his core, and he wanted others to experience that, too.”

‘Ever the teacher’

World Youth Day (WYD) 2008, held in Sydney, Australia, may have been Trina Trusty’s second WYD experience with Pope Benedict present (and her fourth WYD pilgrimage overall), but she was no less impressed by the late pope.

In an interview for a July 25, 2008, Criterion article about the international gathering, Trusty noted that the WYD participants were “all seeking the truth, and [Pope Benedict] is providing it with love.”

The member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis again reflected on her WYD 2008 experience after learning of the death of Pope Benedict.

“Ever the teacher, right before saying the Angelus, he used that opportunity to teach about the Annunciation,” Trusty recalled. “Here’s a quote from that talk that really struck me: ‘As Mary stood before the Lord, she represented the whole of humanity. In the angel’s message, it was as if God made a marriage proposal to the human race. And in our name, Mary said yes.’ ”

Two years before the event in Australia, Trusty got a close-up look at then-recently elected Pope Benedict during a pilgrimage to Rome in 2006. She has a video of him a few mere feet from her in St. Peter’s Square riding by on the popemobile, waving and looking right at her camera.

In her reflection on the late pope, she quoted from his 2005 encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” (“God Is Love”): “The consciousness that, in Christ, God has given himself for us, even unto death, must inspire us to live no longer for ourselves but for him, and, with him, for others” (#33).

Trusty said this work and his other writings and lessons “helped me to mature in my faith and helped me to realize what we are here ‘for’: ‘for’ God and ‘for’ others.”

Even before he was elected pope, she said, “I enjoyed reading the writings of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. His theological writings always took me deeper into the Catholic faith and the life of Jesus Christ. His clear yet profound knowledge of God would lead me to think of spiritual matters in ways I had never imagined. It felt as if I was growing more spiritual neurons and synapses!

“I was also struck by how this learned theologian did not water down the teachings of the faith, including the more unpopular teachings. I saw how this has inspired many faithful Catholics to fearlessly proclaim the truths of the Catholic Church.

“When he was elected pope, I was so excited that the world would now have the opportunity to hear the teachings of this wise professor and, therefore, learn about Jesus Christ in a deeper way.”

‘Imagine how excited we were!’

When Larry and Mary Daugherty of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis read in

The Criterion about an archdiocesan-led pilgrimage to Rome scheduled for the fall of 2005, they signed up. Pope John Paul II was still shepherd of the Church when they registered.

“In the spring of 2005 when Pope John Paul II died, we were saddened, and I did feel disappointed that we would not see him when we had an audience in St. Peter’s Square on the trip, that it would be the new pope, Pope Benedict XVI,” Mary said.

When it was time for the group’s scheduled audience with the pope during the pilgrimage, “Someone suggested a place a group of us should stand to better see the new pope,” she recalled.

“Imagine how excited we were when Pope Benedict passed so close to us!

“I had my photos developed, and I had gotten this wonderful one of him looking right toward us. I had it printed as an 8x10 and framed it. Pope Benedict with his hand raised has been a blessing in our home for many years as his photo sat among our family wedding and grandchildren photos.

“The entire pilgrimage was wonderful,” Mary said. “But the highlight was being so close to our holy, saintly pope who I came to know and love.”

‘I felt an immediate filial admiration’

In the spring of 2005, Anthony Basso was in his first year as a theology teacher at Cardinal Ritter High School in Indianapolis. He recalled eating lunch in his classroom while watching coverage of the second day of the conclave to choose a new pope after the death of Pope John Paul II.

He remembered watching as “the third wave of smoke started to creep out of the Sistine Chapel,” he said.

“One of the senior boys passed by and asked if he could watch for a minute. He stood in the doorway as I sat in one of the student desks, our eyes fixed on the screen. It wasn’t long before the pealing bells confirmed that indeed a pope had been chosen.

“We watched as the announcement rang out from the balcony, ‘Habemus papam’ [‘We have a pope’]!”

Basso likened the excitement of waiting for the name of the new pope to “watching a last-second field goal attempt: Would it have the distance? Would it be on-line or wide left?”

When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s name and his papal name of Benedict XVI were announced, “We both jumped and screamed as if the kick had just sailed through the uprights,” said Basso.

“The one thing I knew about Cardinal Ratzinger was that he had been a professor and oversaw the creation of the Catechism [of the Catholic Church]. As a theology teacher I felt an immediate filial admiration for him … .”

Basso reflected further on Pope Benedict after worshipping with his theology class students at a Mass for the Dead celebrated by Archbishop Charles C. Thompson for the late pope at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Jan. 5.

He appreciated a comment in the archbishop’s homily that Pope Benedict “did not so much want us to possess the truth as to be possessed by the Truth. That was a succinct and powerful way to encapsulate the ministry of a pope whose episcopal motto ‘Cooperatores Veritatis’ [‘Cooperators of the Truth’] reflected his deep love for Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life.” †


See all our coverage of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

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