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Pope’s friends say fame has not changed Joseph Ratzinger

.- Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Bavaria has provided the occasion for many of his close friends to talk about their friendship with the man who they say “is a humble person who has never taken advantage of his powerful position in the Church and has been a friendly and available neighbor, professor, and priest.”

“An official car? For what? That’s why the public bus exists!”  That’s how Father Wilhelm Gegenfurtner, the former vicar general of the Diocese of Ratisbona, remembers the Pope.

Father Gegenfurtner often went on small excursions with the Ratzinger brothers.  Nowadays, every once in a while his phone rings and on the other end someone says, “The Holy Father wishes to speak with you, please.”  

The German priest especially treasures his memories at the cathedral with Father Georg Ratzinger, who directed the choir and the orchestra, and sitting off to the side, always in the same place, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and his sister Maria.

“Many people had a mistaken image of the cardinal, since as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he always had to play a critical role,” said Father Gegenfurtner.  “They did not see him as he really is, an open and friendly person who smiles and is always reaching out to people.”

Maria Baumann, who manages a small museum in Pentling called, “The Pope is one of us,” which includes a collection of many personal items from then Cardinal Ratzinger’s home, said the Pope’s former home is “just as he left it in 2005.  It seems like he just left and that he will be returning at any moment.”  She said the Pope’s brother helped her select the items for the museum.

The Richardi family has also experienced the humility and openness of the Pope.  Their friendship with him began at the end of the 1960’s.  At that time Mr. Richardi was a professor at the same university where Ratzinger taught.  “Here in Pentling he has always been sort of a member of the family,” said Margarete Richardi.  It was Joseph Ratzinger who presided at the marriage of their two daughters and baptized their grandchildren.  He also recently celebrated Mass for their 40th wedding anniversary.

The Richardis also told of how the whole family has adopted the Pope.  Margarete recalled an instance when her grandson Sebastian, then two, said suddenly, “Cardinal, come here, I want to show you something.”  A few minutes later she saw the two kneeling down on the floor and playing dominos together.  

Memories of a sister

Others have fond memories of the Pope’s sister, Maria. Wolfgang Beinert, who was Professor Ratzinger’s assistant and later his successor in the theology department at Ratisbona, remembers her as faithfully fulfilling the promise she made to her parents to watch over and care for her two brothers.  Consequently she always took care of then Cardinal Ratzinger’s office and managed his home.

“Maria Ratzinger,” Beinert recalled, “was a very intelligent woman and wise counselor to her brothers.”  She shares Joseph’s great love for animals, especially cats.


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