Father Charles Ravert

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Pax et Bonum+Peace and All Good

As I write this article I have just learned of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Although he lived a long fruitful life in service to Christ and his Church, I am still sad. I never met the man one on one but I feel like I have come to know him over the years as a brilliant intellectual professor and a gentle Pastor and mentor.

During my years in seminary, the writings of Cardinal Ratzinger, and later his writings as Pope, were constantly part of class reading lists across our philosophy and theology classes. Other than his writings, his Wednesday audiences, his encyclicals, and homilies were very often sources for my own theological work as well as my spiritual growth. I still pour over his Jesus of Nazareth books while preparing homilies, reflections, and sometimes even this column on Catholic Philly.

My appreciation of His Holiness extends beyond his intellectual work really began in July of 2009. Allow me to set the stage for this brief story. I had just finished my second year in seminary which was quite challenging. Just a few months prior, my childhood dog had to be put down. A few short weeks after that my stepdad died of cancer after months of resting at home on hospice. The 2008-2009 academic year was one of the worst years of my life. I was stressed, depressed, and ready to rest! My wonderful mother and family came to my rescue. They paid for me to take a pilgrimage for the month of July in Rome, the Eternal City. I was excited for my trip to Rome, but I will admit, I got on the plane to Europe with a broken heart: unsure of my vocation, unsure of my faith, and unsure of my future.

About two weeks into my pilgrimage, I had the opportunity to attend a Wednesday papal audience with Pope Benedict in St. Peter’s Square. I was lucky enough to have a place up near the Pope, behind visiting bishops and cardinals. The talk he gave was in Italian so I didn’t understand much, but I was overwhelmed by experience!

The beauty of where I was surrounded by the history and thousands of faithful Catholics and visitors from around the world and here not 20 feet from me was the Successor to St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ on Earth, the leader of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church! All that overwhelmed me but so did the crowd of hundreds of pilgrims pressing behind me.

When the audience ended and Pope Benedict came riding around on Pope-mobile, the crowd crushed me against the guard railing. It was hot and claustrophobic. As he approached I noticed directly behind me a family attempting to raise their teenage daughter over the crowd on their shoulders for the Pope to see and bless her. I could tell that this young girl was suffering from some sort of serious disease. Sadly, a few moments after they got her to the front of the crowd she began to have a seizure.

Almost immediately, Pope Benedict arrived and it was clear that he noticed what was happening to this poor girl. He motioned to his security detail to stop the car and allow him a few moments in front of the girl, me and the rest of the crowd. He prayed quietly for a few moments, raised his right hand, and offered a blessing with the Sign of the Cross.

It was amazing. I couldn’t believe my eyes. As soon as the gesture of blessing finished, the girl’s seizure stopped, her body quieted, and she was let down from their shoulders and stood on her own two feet.

As the Pope-mobile once again rolled along the girl smiled and waved to His Holiness after their brief and seemingly miraculous encounter!

Immediately the passage from Acts of the Apostles came to mind: “Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them” (Acts 5:15).

I went back to my room at the North American College and was tried to process what I had witnessed. While I thought and prayed my feelings about losing my stepdad, my dog, the stress of the previous school year all came to the surface.

When my pilgrimage ended a few weeks later I got on the plane back to the United States but this time my heart wasn’t broken, it was beginning to heal. I was still unsure of what the future would bring but I was able to trust God more because Pope Benedict reminded me powerfully that God always sees our sufferings and challenges and he never abandons us in them.

Whenever I read his writings I think of that day in July 2009, that young girl, and the blessing the Pope gave that helped her and changed my life.

I don’t really know if this article this week will be helpful to you or not for that I am sorry. But I hope it pays respect to a wonderful man who helped make me the priest I am today.

I will miss Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, but I believe we have gained a powerful intercessor in heaven.

Eternal rest grant into him On Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him.

Father Charles Ravert serves as pastor of St. Ambrose Parish in Philadelphia.