LAKE CHARLES – Some 200 people joined Bishop Glen John Provost as he celebrated Mass in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, giving thanks to Almighty God for the ministry of Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday concluding at nearly the final moment of his papacy - 1 p.m..
Benedict XVI, now the Pontiff Emeritus, left the Vatican by helicopter at 10 a.m. (5 p.m in Rome) for Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence. The bells of Catholic churches in the Diocese of Lake Charles rang out at 1 p.m. to honor Benedict XVI and also signified the reign of the 265th Pope had ended and the Chair of Peter was vacant.
In his homily, which can be viewed in its entirety at Mass of Thanksgiving for His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pontiff Emeritus, Bishop Provost noted he as a priest he had felt an affinity to Pope Paul VI, who ordained him in 1975, and that the same is true of "a bishop and the pope who appointed him. We are human beings after all and should and must acknowledge our attachments. For myself I must confess mixed feelings. I know history. I know what our Church law says. Others have resigned in the past, though it is rare. The law allows for it. But I am saddened at his departure. Pope Benedict XVI appointed me Bishop of Lake Charles. That in itself is a mystery to me, but there it is. I accepted it as the will of God, because the Vicar of Christ had willed it. He had personally signed the document appointing me, something not always done by past pontiffs. I saw it as a special link between him and me, not just with the office of St. Peter but with the person of Benedict XVI. There was a personal dimension to it. I felt it then. I feel it now."
Before his appointment to Lake Charles, Bishop Provost said he had never met the Holy Father, though he had read a great deal of what he wrote as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
"As an old student of literature, I knew that someone’s writing always reveals something of himself. The books of Joseph Ratzinger were a mirror into his life of faith. I liked his lucid thought, his clear explanations of complex ideas, and his ability to articulate the mysteries of the faith in modern language. In an age where many are not sure what they believe and run after the latest craze or opinion, when Cardinal Ratzinger wrote or Pope Benedict XVI spoke you knew that you were getting the “straight story.” There was nothing of self-interest, no posturing, and no hidden agenda. How different from many modern leaders! How unlike the modern world!"
In his closing comments, Bishop Provost said, "We will miss him. What he did he knew before God he had to do. All should respect that. And for a very productive, fruitful, and gifted pontificate as the Bishop of Rome and the Vicar of Christ, we offer a heartfelt 'Thank you.'"
In an emotional address at the last weekly public audience of his pontificate on Wednesday, Benedict XVI promised the faithful that he would continue to serve the Church through prayer after his resignation.
The Pope remarked that “whoever assumes the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and entirely to everyone, to the whole Church. His life, so to speak, is totally deprived of its private dimension.” After resignation, he said, “I am not returning to private life, to a life of trips, meetings, receptions, conferences, etc. I am not abandoning the Cross.” He said that he would remain entirely devoted to the Church, "in the service of prayer.” Pope Benedict said that throughout his pontificate he had felt the strong support of the Holy Spirit and of the faithful. “Thank you; I am truly moved,” the Pope said to the tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for the audience, and who interrupted him repeatedly with loud applause.
Bishop Provost met the Pope on a number of occasions, including last year’s Ad limina Apostolorum visit to the Vatican, where he reported on the state of the diocese.
“I am saddened to see his departure,” Bishop Provost said. “Pope Benedict XVI appointed me Bishop of Lake Charles. That in itself is a mystery to me, but there it is. I accepted it as God’s will and saw it then and see it now as something that links me to him, not just with the office of St. Peter, but with the person of Benedict XVI himself. There was a personal dimension to it. I felt it then. I feel it now.”
The Very Reverend Derek Covert, Judicial Vicar for the Diocese, studied Canon Law in Rome and had the good fortune to meet the Holy Father.
“In January of 2012, I met the Holy Father in his library during the Ad Limina visit with Bishop Provost,” Father Covert said. “When his Holiness greeted me, we exchanged a few words about my being a priest and studying Canon Law in Rome. He made a couple of jokes and told his secretary, Archbishop (Georg) Ganswein, that I was studying Canon Law. In the midst of a private audience, both of them were quite cordial and hospitable. I felt completely at ease in the Pope's presence.”
During his time as a seminarian, Father Covert first came upon the writings of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.
“While I was studying at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, I figuratively stumbled across some of his books,” Father Covert said. “I was preparing a paper for class and liked his work, so I used him as my main source. At the time, I did not know who he was, that he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
“While reading his work, I was drawn to give thanks to God because I knew the Cardinal's work was grounded in truth and love,” Father Covert continued. “My soul leapt and I was drawn to deeper reflection and prayer. Fast-forward a few years to 2005 when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected and took the name Benedict XVI. I did not believe it likely that he would become pope since he was older and not favored by many. So, when I heard the words Habemus Papam and his name, I was filled with great joy and gratitude. The experience I had had a few years before occurred again.
“The opportunity to meet Benedict XVI in 2012 after all those years was rewarding to say the least and my earlier experiences of his work and papacy were confirmed. He is a man of great humility. His love for Christ and the Church are clearly present in his writings and in his person. His love for truth and his love grounded in truth are unmistakable signs of his intimate relationship with our Lord and God. Although I am grieved that he is abdicating, I am most thankful to have known him, even if from afar, and to have been a priest during his pontificate.”
Alison Fontenot, a board member of Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana and on the staff of Our Lady Queen of Heaven Catholic Church, knew about Cardinal Ratzinger before his elevation to the papacy.
“Cardinal Ratzinger had already established a good reputation through his work during the Second Vatican Council and in his leadership role in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” she said. “I recall at his election as our pope, I believed that the Church worldwide was being tested by the secularization of society, relativism and indifferentism, the Holy Spirit selected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, as the right man for the task.
“His writings while pope, beginning with the surprise topic of his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, (God is Love), will continue to serve the Church well into the future. His shy mannerism, close relationship with his beloved brother, and scholarly nature endeared him to many. His humility in the act of retiring when he felt he could no longer serve God's people well did so even more. He has certainly left his mark during his relatively short term as our pope.”