Happy Birthday Pope Benedict, 84 years old this Saturday
Queen Elizabeth II was one of the first heads of state to send birthday greetings
to Pope Benedict XVI. The Holy Father turns 84 years of age Saturday April 16th. In
a message marking the occasion Queen Elizabeth writes: “On the occasion of your eighty
fourth birthday, I have much pleasure in sending my warmest felicitations and prayers
to Your Holiness, recalling with great fondness the memorable visit of Your Holiness
to the United Kingdom. Elizabeth R."
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict
XVI, was born at Marktl am Inn, Diocese of Passau (Germany) on 16 April 1927 (Holy
Saturday) and was baptised on the same day. His father, a policeman, belonged to an
old family of farmers from Lower Bavaria of modest economic resources. His mother
was the daughter of artisans from Rimsting on the shore of Lake Chiem, and before
marrying she worked as a cook in a number of hotels.
He spent his childhood
and adolescence in Traunstein, a small village near the Austrian border, thirty kilometres
from Salzburg. In this environment, which he himself has defined as "Mozartian", he
received his Christian, cultural and human formation.
His youthful years were
not easy. His faith and the education received at home prepared him for the harsh
experience of those years during which the Nazi regime pursued a hostile attitude
towards the Catholic Church. The young Joseph saw how some Nazis beat the Parish Priest
before the celebration of Mass.
It was precisely during that complex situation
that he discovered the beauty and truth of faith in Christ; fundamental for this was
his family’s attitude, who always gave a clear witness of goodness and hope, rooted
in a convinced attachment to the Church.
During the last months of the war
he was enrolled in an auxiliary anti-aircraft corps.
From 1946 to 1951 he studied
philosophy and theology in the Higher School of Philosophy and Theology of Freising
and at the University of Munich. He received his priestly ordination on 29 June 1951.
A year later he began teaching at the Higher School of Freising.In 1953 he obtained
his doctorate in theology with a thesis entitled "People and House of God in St Augustine’s
Doctrine of the Church".
Four years later, under the direction of the renowned
professor of fundamental theology Gottlieb Söhngen, he qualified for University teaching
with a dissertation on: "The Theology of History in St Bonaventure".
lecturing on dogmatic and fundamental theology at the Higher School of Philosophy
and Theology in Freising, he went on to teach at Bonn, from 1959 to1963; at Münster
from 1963 to 1966 and at Tübingen from 1966 to 1969. During this last year he held
the Chair of dogmatics and history of dogma at the University of Regensburg, where
he was also Vice-President of the University.
From 1962 to 1965 he made a notable
contribution to Vatican II as an "expert"; being present at the Council as theological
advisor of Cardinal Joseph Frings, Archbishop of Cologne. His intense scientific
activity led him to important positions at the service of the German Bishops’ Conference
and the International Theological Commission.
In 1972 together with Hans Urs
von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac and other important theologians, he initiated the theological
On 25 March 1977 Pope Paul VI named him Archbishop of Munich
and Freising. On 28 May of the same year he received episcopal ordination. He was
the first Diocesan priest for 80 years to take on the pastoral governance of the great
Bavarian Archdiocese. He chose as his episcopal motto: "Cooperators of the truth".
He himself explained why: "On the one hand I saw it as the relation between my previous
task as professor and my new mission. In spite of different approaches, what was involved,
and continued to be so, was following the truth and being at its service. On the other
hand I chose that motto because in today’s world the theme of truth is omitted almost
entirely, as something too great for man, and yet everything collapses if truth is
Paul VI made him a Cardinal with the priestly title of "Santa Maria
Consolatrice al Tiburtino", during the Consistory of 27 June of the same year. In
1978 he took part in the Conclave of 25 and 26 August which elected John Paul I, who
named him his Special Envoy to the III International Mariological Congress, celebrated
in Guayaquil (Ecuador) from 16 to 24 September. In the month of October of the same
year he took part in the Conclave that elected Pope John Paul II.
He was Relator
of the V Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops which took place in 1980
on the theme: "Mission of the Christian Family in the world of today", and was Delegate
President of the VI Ordinary General Assembly of 1983 on "Reconciliation and Penance
in the mission of the Church".
John Paul II named him Prefect of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith and President of the Pontifical Biblical Commission
and of the International Theological Commission on 25 November 1981. On 15 February
1982 he resigned the pastoral governance of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising.
The Holy Father elevated him to the Order of Bishops assigning to him the Suburbicarian
See of Velletri-Segni on 5 April 1993.
He was President of the Preparatory
Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which after six years of work
(1986-1992) presented the new Catechism to the Holy Father.
On 6 November
1998 the Holy Father approved the election of Cardinal Ratzinger as Vice-Dean of the
College of Cardinals, submitted by the Cardinals of the Order of Bishops. On 30 November
2002 he approved his election as Dean; together with this office he was entrusted
with the Suburbicarian See of Ostia.
In 1999 he was Special Papal Envoy for
the Celebration of the XII Centenary of the foundation of the Diocese of Paderborn,
Germany which took place on 3 January. Since 13 November 2000 he has been an Honorary
Academic of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
In the Roman Curia he has been
a member of the Council of the Secretariat of State for Relations with States; of
the Congregations for the Oriental Churches, for Divine Worship and the Discipline
of the Sacraments, for Bishops, for the Evangelization of Peoples, for Catholic Education,
for Clergy and for the Causes of the Saints; of the Pontifical Councils for Promoting
Christian Unity, and for Culture; of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura,
and of the Pontifical Commissions for Latin America, "Ecclesia Dei", for the Authentic
Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law, and for the Revision of the Code of Canon
Law of the Oriental Churches.
Among his many publications special mention should
be made of his "Introduction to Christianity", a compilation of University lectures
on the Apostolic Creed published in 1968; "Dogma and Preaching" (1973) an anthology
of essays, sermons and reflections dedicated to pastoral arguments.
to the Catholic Academy of Bavaria on "Why I am still in the Church" had a wide resonance;
in it he stated with his usual clarity: "one can only be a Christian in the Church,
not beside the Church".
His many publications are spread out over a number
of years and constitute a point of reference for many people specially for those interested
in entering deeper into the study of theology. In 1985 he published his interview-book
on the situation of the faith (The Ratzinger Report) and in 1996 "Salt of the Earth".
On the occasion of his 70th birthday the volume "At the School of Truth"
was published, containing articles by several authors on different aspects of his
personality and production.
He has received numerous "Honoris Causa" Doctorates,
in 1984 from the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota; in 1986 from the Catholic
University of Lima; in 1987 from the Catholic University of Eichstätt; in 1988 from
the Catholic University of Lublin; in 1998 from the University of Navarre; in 1999
from the LUMSA (Libera Università Maria Santissima Assunta) of Rome and in 2000 from
the Faculty of Theology of the University of Wrocław in Poland.