ROME – Pope Francis Saturday recalled the “kindness” and “nobility” of his predecessor, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, thanking the late pope for his life of service to the church, particular his final years spent in retirement and prayer.
Leading the Vatican’s annual Vespers service for New Year’s Eve in St. Peter’s Basilica Saturday, Pope Francis in his homily offered a special thought for his predecessor, retired Pope Benedict XVI, who passed away earlier that morning.
“With emotion we remember his person, so noble and so kind. And we feel so much gratitude in our hearts: gratitude to God for having given him to the Church and to the world, gratitude to him for all the good he has done, and above all for his witness of faith and of prayer, especially in these last years of his retired life,” he said.
“Only God knows the value and strength of his intercession, of his sacrifices offered for the good of the Church,” he said.
Benedict XVI passed away Saturday morning at the age of 95 at his residence in the Vatican’s Mater Ecclesiae monastery, just three days after Pope Francis sounded the alarm and asked the world to pray for his predecessor.
On Monday, Jan. 2, Benedict’s remains will be placed in St. Peter’s Basilica to allow faithful to pay their final respects. His funeral will be held Thursday, Jan. 5, at the basilica and will be presided over by Pope Francis.
Benedict shocked the world when in 2013 he became the first pope in 600 years to resign from the papacy. Since then, he largely remained faithful to his pledge to remain “hidden from the world,” spending his life in prayer.
According to a Vatican statement, Benedict’s remains will remain at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican Gardens until early morning Monday, when they will be transferred to St. Peter’s Basilica and available to faithful for prayer as of 9:00 a.m.
No official visits or public prayers are being planned. However, St. Peter’s Basilica will extend its hours from Jan. 2-4 to allow faithful more time to pay their respects.
Official delegations from both Germany and Italy are slated to attend the funeral.
Continuing his reflection on gentleness, Pope Francis in his homily New Year’s Eve described the gentleness of God as a virtue and as “a lifestyle that favors fraternity and social friendship,” and proposed it as a “civic virtue.”
Gentleness, he said, “is an important factor in the culture of dialogue and dialogue is indispensable for living in peace, as brothers and sisters who do not always get along.”
Disagreement is normal, but brothers and sisters nevertheless still talk to one another, he said, saying “persevering and courageous dialogue doesn’t make the news like clashes and conflicts, yet it discreetly helps the world to live better.”
“Gentleness is part of dialogue,” he said, saying this is not a matter of etiquette or being gallant, but of “speaking with kindness,” and is something that must be practiced every day “to go against the tide and humanize our societies.”
Francis criticized the trend of “consumerist individualism” in modern society, saying the greatest damage this does is to view others as an “inconvenience” and as “obstacles to our tranquility, to our comfort.”
An individualist and consumerist society “tends to be aggressive,” he said, because others are seen as “competitors” to beat.
However, even in these circumstances “there are people who demonstrate that it is still possible to choose gentleness and so, with their lifestyle, they become stars in the midst of darkness.”
Gentleness, he said, “is an antidote against some pathologies in our society: against cruelty, which unfortunately can insinuate itself like poison into the heart and toxify relationships; against anxiety and the distracted frenzy that makes us concentrate on ourselves and close off from others.”
These “diseases,” he said, render people aggressive and incapable of saying “thank you” or “I’m sorry,” so much so that a demonstration of politeness seems like “a miracle.”
“However, thank God, there are still kind people who know how to put their worries aside and pay attention to others, to offer a smile, a word of encouragement, to listen to someone who needs to confide, to let off steam,” he said.
Pope Francis voiced his belief that recovering gentleness as both “a person and civic virtue” can help improve the life of families, communities, and entire cities.”
“For this reason, looking at the new year of the city of Rome, I would like to wish all of us who live here the ability to grow in this virtue: gentleness,” he said, saying experience has shown that if this can become a lifestyle, “it can humanize social relationships by dissolving aggression and indifference.”
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