Benedict XVI: From POW to Pope
Pope Benedict XVI broke the seal on the
papal apartment April 20, the day after he was elected, and moved in
April 30. The Pope has been staying in another Vatican residence while
the apartment was prepared for him. One news report said that workers
had a challenge, getting the Pope's piano inside.
The Pope has come a long way since May,
1945, when he was Joseph Ratzinger, deserter from the German army and
prisoner of American forces.
Josef and Maria Ratzinger's son was
born on Holy Saturday, 1927 (April 16), in Marktl am Inn ("on the Inn
River" ), Germany. Young Joseph was the first person baptized in that
year's Easter Water, blessed at the Easter Vigil.
Joseph's father was a policeman, so the
family moved quite a bit. In 1932 the future pope's father outspokenly
anti-Nazi views forced the family to move to Auschau am Inn, at the foot
of the Alps. When Josef retired in 1937, the family moved to Hufschlag,
outside of Traunstein.
That's where Joseph began studying
classical languages. In 1939, about age 12, took his first step toward
being a priest: entering the minor seminary in Traunstein.
Then World War II happened.
When Joseph was 14, he got enrolled in
the Hitler Youth. So did his brother, Georg. That was 1941, when
enrollment in the Hitler Youth was required for all German boys. Not
much later, Joseph was let out because he intended to become a priest.
Joseph was drafted again in 1943, along
with many other teenagers, and put to work as a helper in an
anti-aircraft brigade. Later, he was told to dig anti-tank trenches.
Finally, he turned 18, was put through basic training and pushed into
He got stationed near his home town.
U.S. troops hadn't arrived yet, but were on their way. The Third Reich
was crumbling. Joseph decided to leave. At that point, when prowling SS
units were found a deserter, he was either shot or hung on a lamppost.
Happily, Joseph met other soldiers.
"Thank God they were ones who had had
enough of war and did not want to become murderers.," the future pope
wrote later. "They had to find a reason to let me go. I had my arm in a
sling because of an injury," he said in Aus meinem Leben,
(published in English as Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977).
"Comrade, you are wounded," the other soldiers told him, "Go on."
After he got home, the Americans came,
and set up headquarters in his family's 18th-century farmhouse. The
troops found out that Joseph had been a German soldier. That's when they
made him get into uniform, raise his hands, and march over to join other
German prisoners. "In three days of marching, we hiked down the empty
highway," Joseph wrote years later. "The American soldiers photographed
us, the young ones, most of all, in order to take home souvenirs of the
devastated army and its desolate personnel."
Joseph spent several weeks outside,
behind barbed wire, before being released.
Joseph and his brother George went back
to the seminary and were ordained June 29, 1951, on the Feast of Saints
Peter and Paul. Fr. Ratzinger kept studying, earned a doctorate in
theology at the University of Munich in 1953 and became a full professor
of theology at Bonn.
When the Second Vatican Council started
in the early 60s, Fr. Ratzinger was the Cardinal of Cologne's peritus,
or chief theological advisor. Fr. Ratzinger attended all four sessions.
By 1972, imaginative folks like Karl
Rahner, Hans Kung and others were writing about what they'd like the
Second Vatican Council to have said in Concilium a theological
journal. Fr. Ratzinger and others who knew what the Council actually
said started a journal of their own, Communio.
Fr. Ratzinger became the archbishop of
Munich and Freising in 1977. His motto, from 3 John 8, was "cooperators
veritatis" ("fellow workers in the truth." or "collaborators of the
truth"). Later that year he was elevated to Cardinal by Pope Paul VI.
From 1986 to 1992, Cardinal Ratzinger
worked as President for the Preparation of the Catechism of the Catholic
Church. By 2002, he was Dean of the College of Cardinals.
That's the position he held when Pope
John Paul II died, and the College of Cardinals elected a new pope.
The fourth time the Cardinals voted, on
Tuesday, April 19, 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger became the Bishop of
Rome and Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church.
(Facts from Associated Press articles
and EWTN (www.ewtn.com).)
Brian H. Gill, Editor,
Sauk Centre K of C Bulletin