Students of Benedict XVI gather for Mass, annual dialogue

Father Vincent Twomey Benedicts former student at the Mariapoli Center in Castel Gandolfo Italy on September 1 2013 Credit Estefania Aguirre CNA CNA 9 3 13 Father Vincent Twomey, Benedict's former student at the Mariapoli Center in Castel Gandolfo, Italy on September 1, 2013. / Estefania Aguirre/CNA.

Former students of Benedict XVI met for the first time without him this year for their annual "Schülerkreis" discussions, although they were able to see the former Pope briefly for Mass.

"He has a great sense of humor and we loved to be with him," said Father Vincent Twomey told CNA on Sept. 1. "He has a great sense of joy and he loves to be with his students."

The Schülerkreis is a circle of doctoral and post-doctoral students who had then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - who would later become Pope Benedict XVI - as their supervisor and professor at the University of Regensburg.

Since 1978, the group has been meeting annually with the former Pope to hold discussions, until this year. The results of the group's yearly dialogues are sometimes published.

This event was the first time new Schülerkreis members – those who are studying Ratzinger's theology – met alongside the old members, Ratzinger's former students.

They met at the Focolare movement's Mariapoli Center in the town of Castel Gandolfo from Aug. 29 to Sept. 2 alongside guest speaker Remi Brague to discuss "the question of God in a secularized society."

Although Benedict did not participate in the discussions with his former students, he met with them during the gathering. The former Pope celebrated Mass at the end of the meeting on Sept. 2 at the Mariapoli Center.

"He was in very good form and he seemed very relaxed," said Fr. Twomey. "It was a wonderful experience to meet with him, and each year was the same feeling."

Although Benedict seemed "slightly smaller" this year, he actually looked "much frailer last year when he was still Pope than he did this year," the priest added.

Fr. Twomey described his student years under Ratzinger's supervision at the University of Regensburg as "a wonderful experience."

"There was a tremendous excitement," he said. "He managed to create a kind of sense of excitement to theology."

"He has the capacity to enable people to speak their mind, he listens very carefully and takes in what you say and then he leads the discussion onto a higher level," Fr. Twomey explained.

The Irish priest said that Benedict had offered him an approach to theology that he had not received anywhere else.

He reflected on Ratzinger's influential "courage in tackling the most difficult questions, his complete confidence in the fact that the truth has been entrusted to the Church and to us."

"But our task is to discover it and to enter into dialogue with all those who are searching for the truth," he added.

The priest explained that it was this dialogue that marked Benedict's theology.

"For him, revelation is God's dialogue with us and we're part of that dialogue and it is still continuing," he said.

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"Theology is seeking understanding in a world that is no longer aware of God," said Fr. Twomey. "But you can't exclude God from reality."

The former Pope, he said, was never judgmental, but tried to be objective and was capable of "tuning in with the world."

"He once said, 'we don't have the truth, the truth has us, we don't possess truth, the truth possesses us'," the priest reflected.

He added that Benedict had criticized contemporary German theology, which is why he "never received the same openness" in Germany that "he would have received in the United States or France."

"But there are many young theologians in the 'New Schülerkreis' who are enthusiastic about Ratzinger and have really enlivened greatly our discussions," he said.

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