Pope Benedict XVI’s final General Audience to a packed St Peter’s Square today revealed two things. First, that this shy and retiring man whom many dismissed either as “God’s Rottweiler” or a bookish intellectual who would be too distant from the common man, is greatly loved and admired. The view down the Via della Conciliazione showed the Catholic faithful – and I dare say thousands of non-Catholic well-wishers – stretching right down from the steps of Saint Peter’s to the shores of the Tiber. Blessed John Paul II’s charisma was electrifying, but Benedict XVI’s quiet and gentle prayerfulness has something which attracts people, because it stands so at odds with the expectations the world has of the ‘leader of such a large organisation’.
Secondly, it shows us once again that Benedict XVI is a man for whom Jesus Christ is the centre of all things. Over and over again in his speech he thanked the Lord for what he had done through him in the Church, and over and over again we got the sense that he was drawing all of the attention and joy of the crowd and saying, “No, send this joy onwards and in doing so glorify the Lord with me”.
The Church has many problems to face and a great deal of cynicism and skepticism to overcome in the coming days and weeks. Pope Benedict has reminded us again that, despite all that, we are united in Christ and to Christ, and we are right to place our hope and trust in him. As his final tweet said,
If only everyone could experience the joy of being Christian, being loved by God who gave his Son for us!
— Benedict XVI (@Pontifex) February 27, 2013