Toledo-area Catholics bade farewell to Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday — shortly before the Pontiff departed from the Vatican in a helicopter as “pope emeritus” — with a Mass in downtown Toledo’s St. Francis de Sales Chapel.
Hundreds of people packed the pews of the restored chapel, the Toledo diocese’s original cathedral, for a noon “Mass for the Pope” that was celebrated by Bishop Leonard Blair.
In his 14-minute homily, Blair said it was “a somewhat eerie feeling for us to bid farewell to a pope who has not died, but who has freely resigned his office for reasons of age and health.”
He described Benedict as a man with “a combination of gentleness and strength, humility and courage” who sought to teach the truth of God’s word.
The Toledo bishop cited the significance of the motto Benedict chose early in his ministry, when he was a bishop: “cooperators veritatis,” Latin for “co-workers of the truth.”
“This is how the Holy Father saw himself and his mission as bishop and pope: to be a co-worker in serving the truth.”
It’s a tall order in today’s society, with few people accepting that there is absolute or objective truth, Blair said. He said modern thinking can be summed up by the phrase, “You have your truth and I have mine.”
“The very idea of truth as a criterion for thinking and acting is dismissed out of hand. Faith becomes something arbitrary and even irrational,” he said. “No wonder everyone wants to be their own pope, or thinks that they are.”
Blair called Benedict a “courageous shepherd, an inspiring teacher, a faithful witness” who “sought God’s grace to direct his whole life, and the life of the church, in accordance with the truth that God has revealed about himself, about the world and about mankind.”
Addressing the media before the noon Mass, Blair said Benedict will likely be remembered as a great teacher — a “brilliant theologian” who was able to communicate to the average person “in a very engaging way.”
“I don’t know that everyone appreciates yet just how magnificent the collection of his teachings are – not just his theology but as real preaching of the Gospel,” Blair said.
He said Benedict also will be remembered as “a very gentle and kind person, and that counts for a lot, I think, in this world.”
The Pope’s decision to resign, announced Feb. 11 and effective at 8 p.m. Feb. 28 in Rome, was “a very courageous decision and a very humble decision,”
“Modern medicine gives us the ability to live a long life but it doesn’t necessarily give us the strength to carry on in an office as burdensome as the papacy,” the bishop said, citing the fact that Benedict has a pacemaker for his heart. “He’s going to be 86 years old next month and I don’t think there are many people that age who could carry that kind of burden very well.”
Asked about the upcoming conclave in which the world’s cardinals will elect a new pope, Blair said it was “pure speculation” trying to guess who will succeed Benedict.
“I don’t see any indication of some obvious choice,” Blair said, calling the election “wide open.”
He said that celebrating a farewell Mass for Benedict stirred mixed feelings.
“There’s a certain sense of sadness to what we’re doing, but we’re still happy to have him in our midst at the heart of the church for a life of prayer.”