Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was a man who generously responded to the Lord in following Him and placed his life at the service of the Church, Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski said at a memorial Mass for the pontiff held Jan. 5 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.
Several hundred people — many of whom were attending the SEEK conference in Downtown St. Louis — attended the noon Mass to pray for the repose of the soul of Pope Benedict, who died Dec. 31 at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in Vatican City at the age of 95.
The memorial Mass in St. Louis was held hours after Pope Benedict’s funeral, which took place on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope Francis was the first pontiff to preside at the funeral Mass for a pope who resigned.
Pope Benedict “affirmed that that heart of Christianity is that relationship with the person of Jesus Christ that brings about conversion of heart to following His Gospel,” Archbishop Rozanski said in the homily.
The Holy Father was remembered by Massgoers as an intellectual and great theologian, but also as someone who also had a heart for the Church and her people.
Father Patrick Broussard, a chaplain at the University of Louisiana, visited the cathedral basilica while he and more than 100 university students were in town for the SEEK conference.
“I loved his brilliant mind, but he was also a very joyful, humble man,” Father Broussard said. He recalled how the Holy Father, after his election as pope, described himself as a “humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.”
“There’s another line where he said it comforts him that God can work with even imperfect instruments such as himself,” he said.
Archbishop Rozanski recalled a story of Pope Benedict from his youth, when his native country of Germany was under the Nazi dictatorship. A Nazi officer met with a group of young people, including Joseph Ratzinger, and asked him what he wanted to be when he was older. Ratzinger said he wanted to be a priest.
The officer replied: “In the new Germany, there will be no need for priests.”
“But young Joseph knew that faith would be needed after the horrifying years of Nazi oppression,” Archbishop Rozanski said. “We can see his devotion to the faith, his resolve to follow God’s call to Him and the wisdom gained from his youthful experiences lived under totalitarianism and its inhuman consequences.”
That was a message that resonated with Byanka Haine of Alton, Illinois, who attended the Mass with her mother-in-law Anna Haine. Byanka Haine noted that she, too, grew up in another totalitarian regime in Venezuela.
“I am sure his experience growing up and his very faithful family was used — through something so horrible — in such a beautiful way in a way that the Church needs right now,” she said.
“The world in general needs his wisdom about internal truths,” Anna Haine added.
Father Edward Pelrine of the Archdiocese of Chicago, who also was in town for the SEEK conference, said he remembers Pope Benedict as someone who described the importance of having a “deep friendship with the Lord.
“He was a brilliant theologian, but someone who really brought the heart and the head together,” he said.
Archbishop Rozanski joined about a dozen priests and the congregation in singing the Salve Regina at the end of the memorial Mass. The Marian hymn traditionally is sung at the end of a priest’s funeral Mass by his fellow priests in attendance. A framed image of the pontiff also was on display in the sanctuary, still decorated for the Christmas season.
When he was ordained a bishop in 1977, the pope chose as his episcopal motto, “Cooperators of the Truth.” Archbishop Rozanski said it was a great insight into his walk with the Lord, knowing that God reveal to us the way to salvation in Jesus Christ.
Years later, just before his election as pope, he warned of a “dictatorship of relativism, a world that did not acknowledge there were absolute truths about human life and existence itself,” the archbishop said. “Without our fundamental commitment to the truth, we would be adrift in a world that became torn apart by ideologies, dictatorships and blatant disregard for the life that God has created.”
This is the essence of the theological works of Pope Benedict, he said, that “the person of Jesus Christ has changed the course of human history, renewing it in His own birth, death and resurrection and forever changing our destiny so that we can be united forever with God.”