Pope Benedict XVI has finally completed his humble service as a “worker in the Lord’s vineyard”. It was a multifaceted service: some will underline that he was a great theologian, some will continue to call him “God’s rottweiler”, for me he was the great defender of the truth. It is true that his first encyclical was “Deus caritas est”, but this was later followed by “Caritas in veritate”. He defended the truth against the dictatorship of relativism. He wasn’t afraid to appear retrograde in the face of so many who are ready to exalt pluralism to the bitter end and do not draw back from indiscriminate inclusiveness. He said that love without a foundation in truth becomes a shell that can contain anything.

Someone said that Pope Benedict, after his resignation, should have kept quiet and not create confusion in the Church. To me, it seems that quite the opposite is true: precisely because there is confusion in the Church, a Pope Emeritus, like every bishop and cardinal as long as he has breath and is clear of mind, must fulfill his duty as Successor of the Apostles to defend the healthy tradition of the Church. Since when has the word “conservative” begun to mean a sin? Unfortunately, fidelity to Tradition can be taken as “rigidity” or “backwardness”. In crucial moments, even Pope Francis accepted this contribution of his Predecessor, especially his defense of the priestly celibacy of the Roman Church in the controversy about the proposal to ordain “viri probati”.

As a member of the Church in China, I am immensely grateful to Pope Benedict for things he has not done for other Churches but has done for us. First of all, a Letter (June 29, 2007) which was a masterpiece of balance between the lucidity of Catholic ecclesiological doctrine and the humble understanding of civil authority. Catholic ecclesiology which is not personal to him, but exposed by him with unsurpassed clarity and concreteness. Unfortunately, this is a Letter that has been somewhat spoiled: by errors (probably also manipulations) in the Chinese translation and by tendentious citations of the Letter made against its obvious meaning.

Another extraordinary thing Pope Benedict has done for the Church in China is the establishment of a powerful Commission to take care of the affairs of the Church in China; unfortunately under the new President, this Commission was silently made to disappear without even a word of respectful farewell.

Pope Benedict was often misunderstood and sometimes not followed, but it is precisely in these cases, which seem to be failures, that I was able to admire the person’s great fortitude and magnanimity in the face of setbacks (I saw Cardinal Meissner cry during those days when the German episcopate severely criticized the German Pope). In the Angelus of 26 December 2006, Pope Benedict exhorted the faithful in China to persevere in the faith, even if at the present moment everything seems to be a failure.

Despite his great effort, Pope Benedict failed to improve the situation of the Church in China. He could not accept a compromise at any price. I am still convinced that every effort to improve the situation of the Church in China will have to be made along the lines of the 2007 Letter. (I have noticed that even the great executor of the Church’s Ostpolitik, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, did not believe he could always succeed with diplomacy).

As we make memory of the great Pontiff, let us remember that we now have him as a powerful intercessor in Heaven. With his intercession, let us pray that everyone, the Church in Rome, the Church in China and the Chinese authorities may be moved by God’s grace to bring about true peace for the Church and for our homeland.


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