.- Pope Benedict is gathering some of his former students this week for their annual meeting. This year, the group is discussing the re-evangelization of the West at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, Italy.
The so-called “Ratzinger Schülerkreis,” or “Ratzinger Study Group” in English, has taken place every summer since 1977 and draws together those who defended their doctoral theses with the present Pope during his years teaching theology at various universities in Germany.
That means the study group has a pretty exclusive and prestigious membership list that includes Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna and Auxiliary Bishop Hans-Jochen of Hamburg.
In total, 40 people from various countries will take place in the seminars that began Aug. 25 and will run through Sunday. On Aug. 26, for the first time ever, the traditional group will be joined by members of a new group consisting of those who have written their doctrinal theses on texts by Joseph Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI.
Pope Benedict will be present at their meeting on Saturday and will begin the day by giving a brief discourse. The whole study group is also invited to join him for Mass on Sunday morning.
Over the four days the gathering will discuss Pope Benedict’s call for a “new evangelization,” one of the key themes of his pontificate. In fact, it was the Pope who personally chose the topic.
The Pope’s choice echoes his decision last year to establish a new Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization. At the time, he said he hoped it will “promote a renewed evangelization” in traditionally Christian countries which were “living a progressive secularization of society and a sort of ‘eclipse of the sense of God.’” The new evangelization has also been chosen as the topic of discussion for next October’s General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome.
Pope Benedict’s academic career spanned 26 years and saw him teach at universities in Bonn, Munster, Tubingen and Regensburg, prior to his appointment as Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977. Despite that, he has always attended the annual gathering with his alumni, even after becoming Pope in 2005.
The academic significance of this year’s meeting reflects the growing interest in the theological works of Joseph Ratzinger. In 2007 an international foundation was established in Munich with the aim of studying and promoting his thought. In 2010 a similar institute was created in Rome by the Vatican.