ROME — Since the last day of his papacy on Feb. 28, 2013, emeritus Pope Benedict XVI largely has kept true to his promise to remain “hidden from the world.” Yet on Monday, celebrating his 90th birthday by sharing beer and pretzels with family and friends, he broke his silence and said that although he’s lived “difficult moments,” God has always guided him.
“My heart is full of gratitude for the 90 years that the good God has gifted me,” Benedict said. “There were trials and difficult moments, but He has always guided me and pulled me out, so that I could continue on my path.”
As per his request, the celebration was kept low-key. It included his elder brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, and Benedict’s longtime personal secretary Archbishop George Gänswein. Also taking part was a group of Gebirgsschützen, meaning members of a Bavarian mountain defense association.
Benedict is a native of Bavaria in southern Germany.
Benedict XVI was born on April 16, 1927, on the Easter vigil. Since this year it coincided with Easter Sunday, the celebration was held a day after. It included beer and pretzels, both key elements from the cuisine of this German region.
In his short remarks to the group, released by the Vatican’s press office on Tuesday, the pope emeritus thanked the group for coming and praised his country, particularly his native region.
“Bavaria has been beautiful from its creation,” Benedict said. “The country is beautiful for its bell towers, houses with balconies full of flowers, good people.”
In Bavaria, he added, one knows that “God is there, knows that it is He who created the world.”
“Thank you so much for bringing Bavaria here,” he said. “Bavaria is open to the world, lively, happy, possibly because its roots are in the faith.”
Speaking with the German edition of Vatican Radio, Karl Steininger, head of the delegation that visited the pope emeritus in the monastery within Vatican grounds where he’s lived since his resignation, defined the encounter as “very special.”
Confirming what Gänswein has said in several recent interviews, Steininger said that “Physically [Benedict] looks a bit frail, but his eyes sparkle on. When he asked us anything, he was fully there.”
Benedict has participated in a handful of public events since his resignation, most of them at the invitation of his successor, Pope Francis. The Argentine pontiff had visited the German on Thursday, to wish him both a happy birthday and Easter.
According to Francis, the two speak over the phone, exchange Christmas presents and he always makes a point to visit his predecessor before any trips abroad.
Earlier in the month, talking to EWTN Germany, Gänswein had said that considering his age, the pontiff “is remarkably well.”
“He is also in good spirits, very clear in his head and still has a good sense of humor. What bothers him are his legs, so he uses a walker for help, and he gets along very well. And this walker guarantees him freedom of movement and autonomy,” he said.