The unexpected announcement that rang out in the Consistory Hall

2013-02-12 L’Osservatore Romano

Dismay, surprise, amazement and emotion at the words of Benedict XVI who announced his decision to “renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome”. These sentiments were etched on the faces of the cardinals, bishops and prelates – assembled for the Ordinary Public Concistory on Monday morning, 11 February, in the Concistory Hall of the Apostolic Palace – who heard the unexpected announcement in the Pope’s own voice.

Everyone’s eyes met, a light murmur swelled in the hall and astonishment faded into sorrow. Yet, after the first few moments of confusion, the unanimous recognition that the Pope’s act was a very lofty act of humility made headway among those present – who included the papal masters of ceremony, representatives of the postulations, choristers of the Sistine Chapel Choir, papal chair bearers and technicians.

It was a decision that took everyone by surprise. As did the fact that the Pope – accompanied by Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Prefect of the Papal Household, and Archbishop Guido Pozzo, the Pope’s Almoner, Mons. Leonardo Sapienza, Regent of the Papal Household, and Alfred Xuereb of the Pope’s Private Secretariat – chose to communicate it personally, when, at the end of the celebration of Midday Prayer and after the announcement that the three canonizations on the agenda of the Concistory would be held next 12 May, he read the Latin text of the Declaratio written in his own hand. Speaking in a firm, calm voice, while those present listened to him in an almost unreal silence, he explained the reasons for his decision, made “with full freedom”, and “after having repeatedly examined my conscience before God”.

The prayerful, joyous atmosphere turned into sadness.  The spokesman who rose to the occasion was Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals who immediately took the floor on behalf of all the cardinals. “Your Holiness, beloved and venerable Successor of Peter”, he said, “your moving message rang out in this hall like a bolt from the blue. We heard it with a sense of bewilderment, almost totally unbelieving. In your words we noted the great affection which you have always had for God’s holy Church, for this Church which you have so deeply loved”.

Now, he added, “may I be permitted to tell you on behalf of the apostolic ‘upper room’, the College of Cardinals, on behalf of your dear co-workers, that we are closer to you than ever, as we have been especially close in these luminous eight years of your pontificate”.

The Cardinal assured Benedict XVI that “before 28 February, as you said, the day on which you wish to give the last word to your papal service, carried out so lovingly, so humbly, before 28 February we will have an opportunity to express our sentiments to you better. A great number of pastors and of the faithful, scattered across the world, will do likewise, as will numerous people of good will, together with the authorities of a great many countries”. He then made a reference to the upcoming commitments of the Pope. During this month we shall have the joy of hearing your voice as a pastor: on Ash Wednesday, then on Thursday with the clergy of Rome, at the Angelus on the coming Sundays, at the Wednesday General Audiences. There will thus be many occasions on which to hear your fatherly voice again”. “Your mission”, he concluded, “will nevertheless continue”. You said that you will always be close to us with your witness and with your prayers. Of course, the stars of heaven always continue to shine and thus the star of your pontificate will always shine among us. We are close to you, Holy Father, and please bless us”.