(Vatican Radio) Amongst the voices of those who have expressed their thoughts and feelings following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on February 11, is the voice of the Archbishop of Cape Town, Stephen Brislin, President of the Southern African Bishops' Conference.
Speaking to Vatican Radio's Linda Bordoni, Archbishop Brislin said the news was a complete surprise for him. However, he says. upon reflection he remembers that in the past the Holy Father had in fact hinted at this possibility...
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"It speaks of his absolute honesty: his intellectual honesty, his honesy with himself, and his honesty in wanting to serve the good of the Church". Archbishop Brislin says he thinks that Pope Benedict feels that the Church needs a Pope with good physical health and much stamina. So he has had the courage to say: "this is the reality, it is better for me to make way for another person to take over for the good of the Church, for the good of the spread of the Gospel, and the spread of God's Kingdom at this time".
As regards opinions that Pope Benedict's decision can be seen as modernizing the role of the Pope, Brislan says it may well create a precedent for future Popes. However he says he doesn't think it is modernizing the Papacy. "It is just a very pragmatic, intellectually honest decison that he has made. It is a noble and honourable decision".
Speaking about the Southern African area Archbishop Brislin speaks of the influence of Pope Benedict's Post-Synodal Apostilic Exhortation: "Africae Munus". He says the Church in Southern Africa is using that document as a guide as to how to serve the needs of the people in Southern Africa. In light of "Africae Munus" , he says "we have actually changed our theme - the previous pastoral plan theme was "community serving humanity". We have now changed that to "community in service to justice, reconciliation and peace".
And just how close to an African mindset is "Africae Munus"? Did Pope Benedict reach out to speak to the minds and to the hearts of the African people? Archbishop Brislan says he did. The ideas contained in the document are in fact the result and the fruit of the Synod for Africa which saw the participation of bishops from across the African continent. And so - he says - it does reflect the mindset of Africans. He says in the document the Pope has recognised the vitality, the joy, the role of the Church, what is so good in Africa. But he has also touched on the difficulties and on the challenges of Africa in the future. "He has recognised what is so beautiful and so good in Africa without hiding the pain and the difficulties Africans face".
Thinking back to the past years, Archbishop Brislin says one of the most important aspects of Pope Benedict's papacy is courage. "His willingness to meet wit the victims of clerical sexual abuse and to seek forgiveness; his reaching out to leaders of other faiths and other Christian religions and denominations" What comes across with most force he says is the humility of Pope Benedict. "When he was Cardinal Ratzinger we saw him as this great intellectual figure, and of course that continued to be manifest in all his writings as Pope as well. "But what came across was how he was a simple and humble man. And this has touched the hearts of people".
When asked whether he has a message for Pope Benedict as he prepares to retire, Archbishop Brislan says "Firstly thank you. Thank you for what you have done for the Church and for leading us in these past years".
"Just one request: please keep writing. We need your theology and we need your thought in the Church today".