How Ratzinger Reacted to Becoming Pope Benedict

On Monday, I looked at how various men have reacted to being elected pope.  I included popes from Clement XIV (elected in 1769) to John Paul II (1978), but didn’t include Pope Benedict’s reaction.

Since then, I heard a great talk on Benedict’s election given by Msgr. Bartholomew Smith, the pastor at St. Bernadette Catholic Church in D.C., and a former priest-secretary to Cardinal William Baum.  Cardinal Baum attended the conclave, but was frail enough to need Msgr. Smith’s assistance, meaning that Msgr. Smith got a unique view into the way the conclave process works.  Without disclosing anything confidential, he was able to walk us through the way a conclave works, and he was clearly struck by the organic beauty of the thing.  He mentioned something I hadn’t known before: that the room in which the newly-elected pope vests is called the Room of Tears,  This captures well what I pointed out in Monday’s post: that the calling to the papacy is a serious responsibility indeed, and one which no man is truly prepared for.

The same day that I learned this, my friend Peter e-mailed the section in Light of the World in which Pope Benedict discusses his own reaction to being elected.  Since it dovetails so perfectly with both Monday’s post, and Msgr. Smith’s talk, I thought I’d share it here.  This is from a series of interviews with German journalist Peter Seewald (whose questions are in blue italics):

What the crowd saw

Holy Father, on April 16, 2005, your seventy-eighth birthday, you told your co-workers how much you were looking forward to your retirement. Three days later you were the leader of the universal Church with 1.2 billion members. Not exactly a project that one saves for his old age. 

Actually I had expected finally to have some peace and quiet. The fact that I suddenly found myself facing this tremendous task was, as everybody knows, a shock for me. The responsibility is in fact enormous. 

There was the moment when, as you later said, you felt just as if “a guillotine” were speeding down on you. 

Yes, the thought of the guillotine occurred to me: Now it falls down and hits you. I had been so sure that this office was not my calling, but that God would now grant me some peace and quiet after strenuous years. But then I could only say, explain to myself: God’s will is apparently otherwise, and something new and completely different is beginning for me. He will be with me.

What Pope Benedict saw

In the so-called “room of tears” during a conclave three sets of robes lie waiting for the future Pope. One is long, one short, one middle-sized. What was going through your head in that room, in which so many new Pontiffs are said to have broken down? Does one wonder again here, at the very latest: Why me? What does God want of me?

Actually at that moment one is first of all occupied by very practical, external things. One has to see how to deal with the robes and such. Moreover I knew that very soon I would have to say a few words out on the balcony, and I began to think about what I could say. Besides, even at the moment when it hit me, all I was able to say to the Lord was simply: “What are you doing with me? Now the responsibility is yours. You must lead me! I can’t do it. If you wanted me, then you must also help me!” In this sense, I stood, let us say, in an urgent dialogue relationship with the Lord: if he does the one thing he must also do the other.

This is what humility looks like.  And it’s the mark of a great pope.


  1. My Holy People of God, have you ever heard such absolute humility and total Abandonment to the Will of God???? “What are you doing with me? Now the responsibility is yours. You must lead me! I can’t do it. If you wanted me, then you must also help me!”…we are truly living in “Prophetic” Times…God is working wonders for mankind through this very Holy Father. + Laudetur Iesus Christus +

  2. Mary you said that so well, thank you for your words. The Chair of Peter is great hands thru B16 The Holy Spirit is directing our Church. I must listen to his words, they are the words of eternal life in his perfect Kingdom.

  3. Sue,

    You didn’t really make an argument (as much as a baseless assertion), so it’s hard to know exactly how to respond. Why don’t we start with this: what religion are you, if any? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?

  4. My Dear Sue, you gravely sadden an old heart of this Cradle Catholic now living in the final 4th Quarter of her life, basking in the evening sunshine as the shadows of the approaching night are gathering on the Western Sky. Sue, these 2000+, the Holy Spirit has been guiding,inspiring, protecting and ensuring that the Whole undiluted Truth of Christ’s Salvation Message shall remain unpolluted. He it is – the Third Person of the Holy Trinity – who guarantees that this Divine Truth is preserved and proclaimed by the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself where He subsists in His Divine Fullness – Just as Jesus Christ promised the Apostles on the day of His Ascension. Jesus Christ is Her Mystical Head and Bridegroom with the “Rock” St. Peter and his Successors as the visible Shepherds who “feeds His Lambs and His Sheep”. The Holy Spirit actively and Divinely guards Christ’s Church. Certainly He Himself appoints and anoints the Successors of St.Peter until the End of Time. And St Peter, guided by the Holy Spirit and in divine Union with the College of Cardinals the Archbishops and Bishops of the Universal Church teach, protect and proclaim this Message, in accordance with the Scriptures, the Tradition and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. This, Sue, is the Faith of our Fathers which the Holy Spirit protects always and everywhere. Be blessed

  5. And I saw another beast rise up who looked like a lamb but spoke like a dragon. He exercised all of the power of the first beast in his presence, whose mortal wound was healed. -Rev 13

  6. Sue, Jesus Christ Himself made this powerful Divine Declaration: “You are Peter, and upon this Rock I shall build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall never prevail against Her……and behold, I shall be with you until the End of Time”…. the powers of hades that have been pummeling against this One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church founded by Christ upon “Peter” come from within and without. But He emphatically promised – they shall never prevail against Her…..The Bride of Christ has survived these 2000+ years and She shall stand firm, unshaken, until the End of Time. And oh yes, from time to time the Heavenly Father does prune this “Vine” to rejuvenate it – constantly and continously – to ensure She remains Holy as He is Holy. May God bless you, Sue.

  7. Oh, Sue. your apocalyptic quotation above is irrelevant and as someone has told you, it is a shallow, baseless way to evade facing God’s Truth. We shall all on this Website pray for you

  8. An amazing thinker, and an amazing man. One of the great theologians and philosophers of our day; his impact on academic theology, on the political philosophy of Europe (healthy secularism), and on the face of the Catholic Church, is without equal in this age, I suspect.

  9. “You are Peter, and upon this Rock I shall build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall never prevail against Her…”

    Popes have failed in the past, have they not?

    It is also written, “The rebellion must come…” -2 Thess 2

  10. “And a rebellion isn’t top down.”

    The Apostle warns of this particular rebellion precisely because it differs from all other rebellions!!!

    I thank you for your prayers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *