ROME – As the anniversary of Benedict XVI’s historic resignation approaches, the retired pontiff has given new, brief comments to a Bavarian television station, offering a peek into what his life and condition are like seven years later.
Published on Bavarian television network BR24 Jan. 3, the 30-minute segment was conducted by German journalist Tassilo Forchheimer, who paints a picture of Benedict’s daily life, his studio, and his physical condition.
Benedict, who has generally kept a low-profile since he stepped down in 2013, was described by Forchheimer as having a “weak voice” and walking with “great difficulty,” always accompanied by his personal secretary, German Archbishop Georg Gänswein.
At one point, Forchheimer said Benedict told him that “I used to have a great voice, but now it doesn’t work.”
Gänswein himself described Benedict as having “a clear mind,” as many others who have met him have said, but “he has already lost a lot of his physical strength.”
Yet despite the toll that age has taken, Benedict, who uses a walker and who will turn 93 in April, was said to keep a “strict” schedule, beginning with Mass each morning with Gänswein and the consecrated women who attend to him in a small chapel inside the Vatican’s Mater Ecclesiae monastery, where he lives.
He also reportedly spends a large portion of the day in his office, which according to Forchheimer “looks like a library.”
“The life of the theology professor Josef Ratzinger is reflected in the thousands of books; it says that for him, every phase in his life is contained in these books and with them, and he deals with them every day,” Forchheimer said.
Video footage shows Benedict’s office scattered with objects and paintings from his native Germany, including a picture of the Marienplatz cathedral in Munich and a gingerbread heart with a drawing of Marktl, the city of his birth.
“I am always very united to Bavaria and every night I entrust our state to the Lord,” he said. It was also reported that the monastery cooks, who are Italian, learned to prepare special Bavarian dishes for the retired pontiff.
In the years since Benedict’s historic resignation on Feb. 28, 2013, the outside world has become fascinated with him, the Vatican and his decision to resign, as is evidenced by the increasing number of papal television shows that have emerged from companies such as Netflix, Sky and HBO.
The latest of these, “The Two Popes,” has gotten mixed reviews. The film portrays Pope Benedict and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who represent not so much as their historical selves but the ideological camps they have come to be associated with, arriving at a meeting of minds after debating what direction the Church ought to take going forward.
Though often portrayed as holding out-of-date positions on church practice and governance, Benedict has become a source of fascination for the public eye and is often the subject of rumors about health scares.
As his 93rd birthday approaches on April 16, usually marked with a beer and a Bavarian-style celebration, it is likely that more rumors and questions about his physical condition will surface.
However, as recently as December 2019, Benedict proved that despite waning strength as he reaches his mid-90s, he is still active, establishing a private foundation in collaboration with German Catholic newspaper Tagespost for training future journalists.
To be called the “Tagespost Foundation for Catholic Publicity,” the foundation will provide financial support for bio-ethical research projects while also assisting Catholic media to cover a wider range of issues.
The Association of Catholic Publicists in Germany, linked to the Institute for the Promotion of Aspiring Journalists, which was founded in 1968 after the Second Vatican Council and is financed by the German bishops, voiced surprise at the decision, saying in a statement that they found it “more than strange” that Benedict “was entrusting significant financial resources to one single publication bypassing the institute and thereby the bishops’ conference.”
According to Tagespost, Benedict had urged people to support the new foundation, saying “I want the Catholic voice to be heard.”
Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it
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