By Cardinal Justin Rigali
Archbishop of Philadelphia

As we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict XVI, we are given the opportunity to reflect on the promise of Jesus and its continuing fulfillment.

A marvelous continuity
As we recall the fifth anniversary of the election of our Holy Father on April 19, 2005, I cannot help but reflect upon participating in the Conclave of Cardinals that resulted in the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the 264th successor of St. Peter. In particular, I recall the moments immediately following his election. Once the election was completed, and the new Pope had chosen the name by which he was to be called, the obligation of the Cardinals to secrecy ceased. We prayed for the new Pope and then, there in the beautiful and famous Sistine Chapel, in fulfillment of the plan of God, the senior Cardinal Deacon stood before the newly-elected Pope and proclaimed the 16th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, containing Simon’s confession of faith in Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”; and the reply of Jesus: “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:16-18). Supported by the prayers of the faithful throughout the world, who in a sense were thereby “present” in the Conclave, the new Pope and we who had elected him, were presented with the unfolding of the will of Christ for His Church.

Many ask about the significance of the Pope choosing a new name after his election. We know that this is done in imitation of the first Pope, who had been called Simon, but whose name Jesus changed to Peter, which means rock. This name was to signify the fact that Peter was called to be the rock upon which Jesus would build His Church. The human Simon remained but his new office was signified by his new name. Jesus takes Simon and calls him to be Peter, meaning rock, because He willed Peter to be the firm rock upon which the faith of the Church would be built, strengthened and guaranteed: “I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32). Similarly, in fulfillment of this plan of God, Joseph Ratzinger is called and becomes the successor of Peter and the holder of his office.

The First Vatican Council solemnly defined the primacy of Peter and his successors in this way: “Now, what Christ the Lord, supreme shepherd and watchful guardian of the flock, established in the person of the blessed Apostle Peter for the everlasting good of the Church must, by the same will, endure without interruption in the Church, which was founded on the rock and which will remain firm until the end of the world. Whoever succeeds Peter holds Peter’s primacy over the whole Church, according to the plan of Christ himself” (Pastor Aeternus, chapters 2 and 4).

A sobering responsibility
The reflection I have just given on the office of Peter and its continuity down through the ages in the successors of Peter should certainly fill us with a sense of joy and gratitude as members of the Church founded by Jesus. However, this joy is not one of a false “triumphalism” or worldly arrogance. The office of Peter, held in our time by Pope Benedict XVI, places upon the shoulders of him who receives it a sobering responsibility. There is even a pious belief that Peter, the first Pope, sought to escape from Rome. This is based upon what is found in one of the so called “pseudo-gospels,” in other words not among those officially received by the Church as God’s inspired word. The pseudo-gospel of St. Peter says that Peter was escaping Rome and the heavy responsibilities and dangers that went with his office. As he was leaving the City, it is said that he met Jesus, who appeared to him, looking pale and weary. Peter asks Jesus the question: “Where are you going, Lord?” Jesus answers: “To Rome, to be crucified again.” Ashamed of his lack of confidence, Peter turns back and returns to the responsibility of his office, which ultimately leads to his heroic martyrdom for the Faith at the hands of the enemies of Jesus and His message.

When we speak of St. Peter, we cannot help but think of St. Paul because the two of them are often spoken of as one, as is evidenced by the name of our own Cathedral. In Paul’s second Letter to the Corinthians he speaks of a concern of his which he has in common with all pastors in the Church, but most especially with the Supreme Pastor and Successor of St. Peter: his “anxiety for all the churches,” as he calls it (2 Corinthians 11:28). He has just enumerated all the physical sufferings he has already endured out of love for Jesus and His Church, but he proclaims this care and anxiety “for all the churches” as his greatest suffering, making him worthy to be called an apostle. In this context, he is speaking of all the local churches he had founded through his preaching and ministry. Imagine the number of local churches and inspanidual Christian faithful that Pope Benedict XVI must concern himself with!

There are 3,000 dioceses
throughout the world. There are 400,000 priests serving in so many varied ministries; hundreds of thousands of consecrated men and women in the Religious Life and approximately 1.3 billion Catholics throughout the world. You know the many and varied heavy responsibilities the pastors of your own parishes face and I, along with my Auxiliary Bishops, know the responsibilities of our own local Church. We can only begin to imagine the burden the Supreme Pastor in the person of Pope Benedict XVI bears each day. However, as he himself has said, he is never alone because Jesus is faithful to His promises and does not leave His Church or His Vicar on earth without help. The Pope is also supported by the prayers of the faithful throughout the world. In every Mass, the Church unites the Sacrifice of the Cross being offered at that moment, upon that particular Altar, “with Benedict our Pope.” In our devotional life, we pray for the Pope at other times as well. The praiseworthy Novena of Prayer for the Holy Father, sponsored this past week by the Knights of Columbus, is a very splendid example of that type of prayer.

Concern for all men and women
Throughout history, as well as in our own day, even those who do not share our faith completely, often look to the Successor of Peter for moral guidance and leadership. At the beginning of this year, the Pope received the members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. This is an annual custom and it is a time for the Holy Father to review the needs and challenges of the world. Even if we were to look at Pope Benedict’s address on this occasion alone, we would have some insight into his varied and heartfelt concerns for all the children of God and for the world in which we live. His address this year contained a great deal of information on ecology and the care for the world’s resources. After enumerating the many challenges to peace and the challenge of caring for the environment and equitably sharing its resources, the Pope called for “a great program of education aimed at promoting an effective change of thinking and creating new lifestyles.”

The Pope reminded his listeners that the Church very much wants to be a part of this program, but she has to be welcome at the table. He said: “The community of believers can and wants to take part in this, but, for it to do so, its public role must be recognized. Sadly, in certain countries, mainly in the West, one increasingly encounters in political and cultural circles, as well as in the media, scarce respect and at times hostility, if not scorn, directed towards religion and towards Christianity in particular. It is clear that if relativism is considered an essential element of democracy, one risks viewing secularity solely in the sense of excluding or, more precisely, denying the social importance of religion. But such an approach creates confrontation and spanision, disturbs peace, harms human ecology and, by rejecting in principle approaches other than its own, finishes in a dead end” (Address, 11 January 2010).

As we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the election of the current Successor of St. Peter, Pope Benedict XVI, we renew our prayers for him and his intentions and we thank the Good Shepherd, Jesus the Pastor of souls, for founding and remaining present in His Church, even within the dimensions of our own human frailty.

15 April 2010