Pope Benedict XVI has "surprised all of us" in the first five years of his pontificate, according to his personal secretary. The Holy Father, he said, is full of the same "vitality" of his John Paul II as he fulfills his "sacred duty" of laying down "tracks" throughout the world that lead to faith.
Personal secretary to Pope Benedict XVI, Msgr. Georg Gänswein, received a Capri San Michele Award over the weekend for a book he released earlier this year that illustrates the travels of the Pope in his first five years.
L'Osservatore Romano printed his words under the title "The Pope of surprises."
Msgr. Gänswein first highlighted the beauty of unity in diversity of the different Popes, that "each responds with his own personality and with his own unrepeatable sensitivity" to the call to the See of Peter. Calling the phenomenon "a miracle of newness in continuity," he listed the names of several Popes from the last century, saying that none has been the same as another, yet "all have loved Christ passionately and faithfully served their Church."
But, the Pope's secretary continued, the "truly singular and edifying fact" of this pontificate is that Pope Benedict XVI is the "first devotee" to his predecessor, John Paul II. This, he said, "is an act of great humility, that astonishes and provokes moved admiration."
That the Holy Father reveres Venerable John Paul II in such a way is a "stupendous lesson in pastoral style," said the monsignor, that "whoever begins an ecclesial service ... must not erase the tracks of he who worked previously, but must put his own feet humbly in (his predecessor's) footsteps ..."
If this were always the case, he observed, much Christian heritage that is otherwise destroyed would be saved.
Taking stock, then, of the first five years of the Benedict XVI's pontificate, Msgr. Gänswein said that the Holy Father "has surprised all of us." As a man who "speaks of God," rather than a Pope of "grand images," he said, the Holy Father assumed the role of his predecessor with ease, interpreting it "in a new way and still equally full of vitality."
He has surprised also with his warmth and spontaneous and true simplicity, his courage in not being afraid to engage the difficult themes of today or enter debates, Msgr. Gänswein recalled. "He calls the insufficiencies and errors of the West by name, criticizes that violence that attempts to find a religious justification," while also combating relativism and hedonism and promoting the relationship of faith and reason and between religion and the renouncement of violence," said the monsignor.
Noting the Pope's goal of the "reevangelization" of Europe, he explained that at the base of the Holy Father's words is always the message that God loves man, proved in Jesus' death and resurrection.
All told, commented the monsignor, as the Pope walks the streets of the world and proclaiming God made flesh, he "does not put himself at the center, he doesn't announce himself but Jesus Christ, the only redeemer of the world."
His message is that "(w)hoever lives in peace with God, whoever lets himself be reconciled with Him, finds also peace with himself, with his neighbor and the creation that surrounds him. Faith helps (a person) to live, faith gives joy, faith is a great gift: this is the deepest conviction of Pope Benedict," concluded Msgr. Gänswein.
"For him," he said, "it is a sacred duty to leave tracks that lead to this gift."