ROME — Priests and theologians, bishops and ambassadors, nuns and scholars braved a spring deluge on April 6 to attend the presentation of a new book dedicated to the life’s work of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum of Rome.
Interest in the retired pope shows no sign of slowing down as his essential contributions to the Church and theology continue to be relevant today.
Three new biographies on the German pontiff have been published in Italy this week alone. Three collections of essays by the pope emeritus are also in the works. Italy’s public television, Rai, will air two one-hour documentaries on Benedict celebrating his life.
Enthusiasm over the figure of Benedict XVI is not limited to Italy. All over the world symposiums, meetings and events take place focusing on the pope’s legacy.
At the Augustinianum, the Vatican publishing house and the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation unveiled Cooperatores Veritatis (Co-workers of the truth), a collection of essays by all 13 winners of the Ratzinger prize analyzing the fundamental contributions by Benedict’s life work.
The Ratzinger prize, established in 2010 by Benedict to serve as the premier international prize in theology, is given to those performing scholarly research in Sacred Scripture, patristics, and fundamental theology.
“I have witnessed while working on this project […] the vibrant interest that there is for the figure and work of Ratzinger as a theologian and as a pastor. It is not an interest that diminishes with time but rather increases with time,” said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, president of the Ratzinger foundation, while presenting the book.
Pope Benedict’s popularity holds its own considering his pontificate fell between two of the most popular popes of all time. In April 2008 a Pew Research Center study found that 83 percent of United States citizens had a favorable view of the pope following his visit. A Pew study also found that Benedict was the main newsmaker in 32 percent of all religion stories studied from July 2007 through May 2012.
The pope’s popularity continues to be felt today even as he has retired to live privately within the walls of Vatican City. On the eve of his 90th birthday, Pope Benedict XVI can still pack an auditorium, be it rain or shine.
The book sets out to show Benedict’s relevance today and offers a glimpse into the reason why he has earned a special place in the hearts of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The Ratzinger prizewinners hail from 11 different countries and though the majority are Catholic, some profess other religions and beliefs.
“Regardless of the little time available – from December to early April – all 13 (Ratzinger prizewinners) responded with enthusiasm and attention and sent their contribution to this volume,” Lombardi said.
The essays are written in their original language to honor Benedict XVI a well-known polyglot, though a second edition is already in the works providing translations. Each scholar wrote an essay based on their specific fields and specialization, highlighting the influence that the pope emeritus had in their work.
The topics in the book vary but they all have in common the emphasis on Benedict’s unique approach. From the relationship between Jews and Catholics, to the connection between reason and faith (a stronghold of the pope’s theological contribution) to the consequences and relevance of Vatican II, all are drenched in Benedict’s vision for the Catholic Church.
“At an international and global level Pope Benedict’s message will certainly continue to be of interest for many years and its richness will be distributed from editor to editor,” Don Giuseppe Costa, Director of the Vatican Publishing House, said at the event.
The emeritus pope has already left a lasting footprint, both at the theological and at the pastoral level, which is destined to have an impact on Christianity and the world in the years to come. This latest 460-page commemorative volume is one of many efforts to ensure the legacy of Benedict’s teachings.
As proven by the large number of volumes and publications on Pope Benedict XVI that are being distributed right now, publishing houses are tapping into a growing demand. Even when covering the Vatican in the media, it is known that generally articles with Benedict XVI in the title produce good traffic.
During his presentation Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, narrowed in on the reasons Benedict XVI still inspires such devotion to this day.
First of all there is Benedict’s love-based vision of Christianity. Benedict viewed Christianity as “the religion of love not only due to its origin but also in its deepest nature,” Koch said. “Christianity derives from the love of God, who loves us and guides us men to love and that we gift back to God and consequentially share amongst each other.”
Secondly Koch described the “democratic” approach to faith by Pope Benedict, viewing his role as that of an interpreter and catalyst for the faith of the ‘little man.’ The mixture of these two ingredients is the secret to the infectious popularity still held today by the retired pope.
As the hundreds of participants at the book presentation made their way out into the pouring rain and flashing lightning above St. Peter’s square, one thing was clear: The teachings by Pope Benedict XVI are here to stay.