Kühnel, who is Director of the Bank of Munich, met then Cardinal Ratzinger in 1978 at the home of the Sisters of Mercy at Bad Adelholzen. In an interview with German television, Kühnel explained that he is known as the “Pope’s courier” because when Cardinal Ratzinger was called to work in the Roman curia, he offered to bring “Bavarian things” to him in Rome, which he did and still does to this day.
“The first thing I brought to Rome, in my car, was a paschal candle, as well as some fruit from Adelholzen and mineral water. For Christmas I brought him his Advent wreath, as they can’t be easily found in Italy. Up to now I have brought some 40 different objects,” Kühnel explained. “He likes the Christmas cookies that women from Bavarian parishes bake at home as well as those made at certain monasteries. He also likes the chocolates made in Aachen”, he added.
Kühnel said he’s also acted as Cardinal Ratzinger’s chauffuer and that he often picked him up at the airport and “brought him to Pentling or Ratisbona to his brother’s home. Sometimes I drove the whole family—the cardinal, his brother Georg and their sister Maria. The little trips we took to Mallersdorf, Brixen, Linz, Klagenfurt, and Bad Hofgastein—most of the time with the entire family—were very beautiful,” Kühnel said.
Kühnel said he has always been amazed at the Pope’s great intellect, citing an experience two years ago as an example. “When he was still a cardinal, he came to Germany to celebrate the Ascension of the Lord in 2004. As we were driving he said, ‘I have to think now about what I am going to say.’ After he finished his homily, several people asked to have a copy. They could not believe that the cardinal had not written down a single word and had simply preached from the podium.”
Kühnel nowadays travels to Rome once a month and usually meets with the Pope. “Even after his election as Pontiff, we wanted to maintain this tradition,” he said, adding that the Pope often spends a generous length of time conversing with him until the nuns call the him to dinner.
“Since April of last year it has become more difficult for us to meet. Before, I simply picked him up and we drove together to a good restaurant. Obviously this is no longer possible. As Pope he cannot move about as freely, since his security must be first,” Kühnel said.
“Before the conclave we spoke by phone and he said to me: ‘Mr. Kühnel, let’s keep in touch’, as if he had already had a premonition,” Kühnel went on. “When he was elected, I was not in Rome, but rather sitting in my office in Munich nursing a broken leg. When I saw the ceremony on television, I was profoundly moved. On the one hand I was full of joy, on the other, nostalgia. I knew that everything has an end at some point. Joseph Ratzinger is no longer a private person. Now he is the Pope,” Kühnel said.
.- Thaddäus Kühnel is not only the Pope’s “courier,” he’s his chauffuer, friend, and confidant. A 28 year-long friendship unites them and remains to this day, despite a few difficulties.