It is Pope Benedict's last day. Tomorrow he will revert, I suppose, to being Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. (Do we even have a title for a "pope emeritus"?) He will move, in other words, from the head of the church, back into the body of the church. It is my impression that he is more comfortable in that role.
Here are some of his remarks yesterday in his last general audience:
When, almost eight years ago, on April 19th, 2005, I agreed to take on the Petrine ministry, I held steadfast in this certainty, which has always accompanied me. In that moment, as I have already stated several times, the words that resounded in my heart were: “Lord, what do you ask of me? It a great weight that you place on my shoulders, but, if you ask me, at your word I will throw out the nets, sure that you will guide me” – and the Lord really has guided me. He has been close to me: daily could I feel his presence. These years have been a stretch of the church’s pilgrim way, which has seen moments joy and light, but also difficult moments. I have felt like St. Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: the Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, days in which the catch has been abundant; then there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the church it has ever been - and the Lord seemed to sleep. Nevertheless, I always knew that the Lord is in the barque, that the barque of the church is not mine, not ours, but his - and he shall not let her sink.A humble, beautiful man and priest.
At this point I would like to offer heartfelt thanks to all the many people throughout the whole world, who, in recent weeks have sent me moving tokens of concern, friendship and prayer.... It’s true that I receive letters from the world’s greatest figures - from the heads of state, religious leaders, representatives of the world of culture and so on. I also receive many letters from ordinary people who write to me simply from their heart and let me feel their affection, which is born of our being together in Christ Jesus, in the church. These people do not write me as one might write, for example, to a prince or a great figure one does not know. They write as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, with the sense of very affectionate family ties. Here, one can touch what the church is – not an organization, not an association for religious or humanitarian purposes, but a living body, a community of brothers and sisters in the body of Jesus Christ, who unites us all. To experience the church in this way and almost be able to touch with one’s hands the power of his truth and his love, is a source of joy, in a time in which many speak of its decline.
Dear friends! God guides his church, maintains her always, and especially in difficult times. Let us never lose this vision of faith, which is the only true vision of the way of the church and the world. In our heart, in the heart of each of you, let there be always the joyous certainty that the Lord is near, that he does not abandon us, that he is near to us and that he surrounds us with his love.