Toledo-area Catholics bade farewell to Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday — shortly before the Pontiff departed from the Vatican in a helicopter as âpope emeritusâ — with a Mass in downtown Toledoâs St. Francis de Sales Chapel.
Hundreds of people packed the pews of the restored chapel, the Toledo dioceseâs original cathedral, for a noon âMass for the Popeâ that was celebrated by Bishop Leonard Blair.
In his 14-minute homily, Blair said it was âa 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.â
He described Benedict as a man with âa combination of gentleness and strength, humility and courageâ who sought to teach the truth of Godâs word.
The Toledo bishop cited the significance of the motto Benedict chose early in his ministry, when he was a bishop: âcooperators veritatis,â Latin for âco-workers of the truth.â
âThis is how the Holy Father saw himself and his mission as bishop and pope: to be a co-worker in serving the truth.â
Itâs a tall order in todayâs 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, âYou have your truth and I have mine.â
âThe very idea of truth as a criterion for thinking and acting is dismissed out of hand. Faith becomes something arbitrary and even irrational,â he said. âNo wonder everyone wants to be their own pope, or thinks that they are.â
Blair called Benedict a âcourageous shepherd, an inspiring teacher, a faithful witnessâ who âsought Godâs 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.â
Addressing the media before the noon Mass, Blair said Benedict will likely be remembered as a great teacher — a âbrilliant theologianâ who was able to communicate to the average person âin a very engaging way.â
âI donât know that everyone appreciates yet just how magnificent the collection of his teachings are â not just his theology but as real preaching of the Gospel,â Blair said.
He said Benedict also will be remembered as âa very gentle and kind person, and that counts for a lot, I think, in this world.â
The Popeâs decision to resign, announced Feb. 11 and effective at 8 p.m. Feb. 28 in Rome, was âa very courageous decision and a very humble decision,â
âModern medicine gives us the ability to live a long life but it doesnât necessarily give us the strength to carry on in an office as burdensome as the papacy,â the bishop said, citing the fact that Benedict has a pacemaker for his heart. âHeâs going to be 86 years old next month and I donât think there are many people that age who could carry that kind of burden very well.â
Asked about the upcoming conclave in which the worldâs cardinals will elect a new pope, Blair said it was âpure speculationâ trying to guess who will succeed Benedict.
âI donât see any indication of some obvious choice,â Blair said, calling the election âwide open.â
He said that celebrating a farewell Mass for Benedict stirred mixed feelings.
âThereâs a certain sense of sadness to what weâre doing, but weâre still happy to have him in our midst at the heart of the church for a life of prayer.â