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Benedict XVI preaches humility and Christian unity in last public Mass as pope

By on Thursday, 14 February 2013

Pope Benedict XVI receives ashes from Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica (Photo: CNS)

Pope Benedict XVI receives ashes from Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica (Photo: CNS)

Pope Benedict XVI preached on the virtues of humility and Christian unity at the last public liturgy of his pontificate on Ash Wednesday yesterday.

He said in his homily that Jesus “denounces religious hypocrisy, behaviour that wants to show off, attitudes that seek applause and approval. The true disciple does not serve himself or the ‘public’, but his Lord, in simplicity and generosity.”

Coming two days after Pope Benedict announced that he would be the first pope in 600 years to resign, the Mass inevitably took on a valedictory tone.

“For me it is also a good opportunity to thank everyone, especially the faithful of the Diocese of Rome, as I prepare to conclude the Petrine ministry, and I ask you for a special remembrance in your prayer,” the Pope told the congregation, including dozens of cardinals and bishops, filling the vast basilica.

The Ash Wednesday liturgy, traditionally held in two churches on Rome’s Aventine Hill, was moved to St Peter’s Basilica to accommodate the greatest possible number of faithful.

At the end of the Mass, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who as secretary of state is the Vatican’s highest official, voiced gratitude for Pope Benedict’s pontificate of nearly eight years.

“Thank you for giving us the luminous example of a simple and humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord,” Cardinal Bertone said, invoking the same metaphor Pope Benedict had used in his first public statement following his election in 2005.

His voice cracking slightly with emotion, Cardinal Bertone described Benedict as a “laborer who knew at every moment to do what is most important, bring God to men and bring men to God.”

Following the cardinal’s remarks, the congregation broke into a standing ovation that lasted well over a minute, stopping only after the Pope, looking surprised but not displeased, said: “Thank you, let’s return to prayer.”

The Pope showed signs of the fatigue and frailty that have become increasingly evident over the last year and a half and which he had cited in announcing his resignation. At the beginning of the liturgy, he walked from his sacristy near the chapel that contains Michelangelo’s statue of the Pieta to the atrium of the basilica, but then rode his mobile platform to the main altar.

During the Mass, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St Peter’s, placed the Lenten ashes on the Pope’s head. The Pope himself placed ashes on the heads of several cardinals and a group of Dominican and Benedictine priests.

The Pope’s last homily included a plea for harmony among his flock, as he lamented “blows against the unity of the Church, divisions in the ecclesial body” and called for a “more intense and evident ecclesial communion, overcoming individualisms and rivalries”. Such communion favours evangelisation, the Pope said, by serving as a “humble and precious sign for those who are distant or indifferent to the faith.”

  • Karin

    Pope Benedict has truly, truly, I say, served the Lord humbly and faithfully, during his pontificate, but we should not forget all the many years of his faithful serving the Church before that.
    Also, as many have already commented: pope Benedict XVI will be remembered in history also as the first pope, who really in earnest tried to put an end to the (mainly) homosexua scandals in the church. Thank you, pope Benedict, we have loved you very much from the very first moment óf your pontificate. Thank yoy for your brilliant, absolutely brilliant intellect, which you have shared with the world so generously. Thank you, for showing the way to all of us, believers and non believers, that humility is the key.


  • Elizabeth Hall1159

    Let us each use our giftst to bring the church back to unity so that others can see that faith has value and is an essential part of this changing world.

  • Francis

    “…the homosexual scandals in the church”.  Karin…you seem to be making a link between homosexual orientation and child abuse.  There is no connection. Some of the priests involved may have been homosexual and some heterosexual.  Your comments are unacceptable in a church where homophobia has no place.

  • Gregory Nearing

     Yet the majority of the victims have been teenage boys

  • JabbaPapa

    a link between homosexual orientation and child abuse.  There is no connection

    Wrong — there’s no direct link between homosexuality and clinical paedophilia per se — BUT if you include all forms of child sexual abuses, that is to say including adolescents and statutory rape and etc — well, statistically a homosexual is TEN TIMES more likely to commit such sexual crimes than a heterosexual.

  • Nat_ons

    Most child abuse takes place within the confines of ‘family’ life; same-gender abuse tends to be aimed at adolescents – I believe that is the point Francis seeks to make.

    The higher likelihood of abuse of teenage males – sexual/ corporal/ mental – is staggering, not least because of the easy access of predators or laxity of carers.

    Yet the abuse doled out to girls – in their teens and pre-teens – is no less egregious or appalling .. and is not a wrong related to same-gender attraction.

  • Nat_ons

    Fear of same-gender sexual attraction (‘homophobia’ sic) has no place in the orthodox Catholic understanding of the physical, psychological or ethical implications of sexual wrongdoing i.e. sin/ crime.

    Hence the very proper emphasis given in Catholic moral theology/ philosophy to order not to emotion .. fear, hate, dislike relating to emotional reaction not order of state/ condition.

    That same-gender sexual activity is a disorder of reproductive action – as are many opposite-gender sexual activities – admits of no emotional reaction or evasion.

    And that is the excellent – yet still misunderstood – basis for any moral or medical or pastoral care aimed toward assisting the same-gender attracted soul .. as advocated by the Church. The ranting hatred, the emotional anxiety, the irrational disgust of (frankly political) rhetoric, therefore, can have no more influence on such care than the agenda of (openly political) activists. More than any other pastor, it seems to me, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, our still active and awesome Benedict XVI, has had a profound understanding of Catholic Truth in this unnecessarily sensitive issue; any moral disorder must be seen for what it is – a break in due order – so Catholic pastoral care cannot resolve this breach by placing it in a mentally constructed box (a euphemism or clever concept) and then declare that it really is not there (now or in the past or at some time in the future).

    Sadly, a pseudo-medico-sociological form of dealing with sexual assaults – crimes also sins – has tended to be the prominent basis of pastoral care. Added, most wilfully (in regard to abusive ministers), to the prevailing lax implementation of codes of conduct – let alone the due rigours of Canon Law. This is what most concerned Josef Cardinal Ratzinger and was dealt with him as vigorously as pope may do – being only a temporary vicar not a self-aggrandised tyrant; emotional evasion and phobic reaction are equally inappropriate responses to assault or disorder .. the former must face the fullest treatment of the law (although not burning at the stake, as capital punishment – though howled for will not treat the wrong done), the latter is best dealt with by gentleness in understanding of the order and its disorders in humane (yet properly balanced, never politically motivated) terms = to defend liberty not limit it.

    “As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one’s own fulfilment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God. The Church, in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality, does not limit but rather defends personal freedom and dignity realistically and authentically understood.” Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect Of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith; On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986.

  • scary goat

     Karin did say ” (mainly) homosexual ” which shows that she is aware that it is not that simple.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say there is no connection.  Yes, agreed, it is not that simple…..but it’s not as simple as saying no connection either. Some of it clearly was and some of it wasn’t.

  • Sweetjae

    There is a direct connection only the liberals deny it. Almost 90 PERCENT of all sexual child abuse cases are by persons with homosexual tendencies and young boys are the great majority of victims.

  • Sweetjae

    There is a direct connection only the liberals deny it. Almost 90 PERCENT of all sexual child abuse cases are by persons with homosexual tendencies and young boys are the great majority of victims.

  • Nat_ons

    In terms of priestly ministry, Scout-movement leadership, all-male boarding school abuses – yes. However, these relate to a highly specific subset of criminal abuses and indeed a particular aspect of sinful desire. Francis, I would suggest, refers to the wider – and more inclusive – experience of sexual (and other forms of) abuse; after all, abuse is not restricted to priestly ministers nor in reality to males.

  • David

    Humility can not be marketed because once its been shown off it becomes a form of vanity; “look how humble I am.” I’m not referring to the Holy Father but to the ample false humility that exists in the post Vatican II church. If a person is truly humble he will not broadcast it by praising the benefits of his humility, otherwise it defeats its purpose.