On Sunday morning, Pope Benedict and the Roman Curia came to the end of their six day retreat that they took as a way of making Lent a time of true conversion. Following its conclusion, Benedict XVI thanked Cardinal Vanhoye S.J. for leading the retreat, saying, you “helped us to listen to the voice of the Lord, to relearn the meaning of His priesthood and of ours.”
With all of the prelates gathered in the Redemptoris Mater chapel, the Holy Father spoke about what he meditated on during the Spiritual Exercises. He recalled how Jesus knelt before Peter to wash his feet. This image, he said, "was always before my eyes" and "spoke to me.”
The theme of the retreat focused on the Christ as the model of priests and this caused the Pope to reflect on how the washing the disciples’ feet was "an act of extreme humility” and how through it “Jesus' new priesthood was fulfilled. It was fulfilled precisely in the act of solidarity with us, with our weaknesses, our suffering, our trials, even unto death.”
"With new eyes I also saw Jesus' red clothing, which speaks to us of His blood", the Pope added. And addressing Cardinal Vanhoye he went on: "You showed us how Jesus' blood was, through His prayer, 'oxygenated' by the Holy Spirit. And thus it became a force of resurrection and a source of life for us".
The Holy Father also noted how Peter had asked the Lord to wash not only his feet but also his head and hands, commenting: "It seems to me that - beyond that specific moment - this expresses the difficulty faced by St. Peter and by all the Lord's disciples in understanding the amazing novelty of Jesus' priesthood, of this priesthood which is debasement, solidarity with us, and thus gives us access to the true shrine: the risen body of Jesus."
"Throughout the period of his discipleship and ... until his own crucifixion, St. Peter had to listen ever and anew to Jesus, in order to enter more deeply into the mystery of His priesthood, the priesthood that Christ communicated to the Apostles and to their successors. In this context, the figure of Peter seems to me like one of us today,” Pope Benedict continued.
Turning back to Cardinal Vanhoye, the Holy Father gave him one last word of thanks. "You have helped us to listen to the voice of the Lord, to relearn the meaning of His priesthood and of ours. You have helped us to participate in Christ's priesthood and thus to receive a new heart, the heart of Jesus, as the centre of the mystery of the new Covenant".