Page 8, 9th May 2008

9th May 2008
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Page 8, 9th May 2008 — Benedices difficult days in Munich

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Benedices difficult days in Munich

unich is an attractive and welcoming city with a 1\4 Mediterranean feel to it.

According to some sources it was founded in the eighth century. when the monastery of Tegernsee was home to a community of Benedictine monks. Thus the name zu den Monchen, or "where the monks are".

Its foundation is more traditionally attributed to Henry the Lion, the Guelph prince who back in 1158 built a bridge over the river hat in order to control the salt route which passed through this place — salt being then seen as a sort of white gold. Many other towns grew and developed as a result of this trade.

Let us now start our visit of the city. Its real heart is Marien iplatz with its ancient palaces, the famous tower of the Neue,s Rathaus (new town hall) whose musical clock plays different tunes according to the time of day, and the Mariensaule. This column bearing a statue of the Madonna was erected in 1638 by Maximilian I in honour of the patron saint of Bavaria, and symbolises the attachment of the people of Bavaria to the cult of Mary.

,iommoorommommewcar.x.,;.i. The period when Joseph• Ratzinger was an archbishop and then a cardinal in Munich and in nearby Freising — five years, starting in 1977 — were not easy. Indeed, it is well-known that in this region the faith of numerous people lives side by side with a certain anti-clerical attitude, and that the winds of a liberal mentality have made themselves felt.

The archbishop's church or cathedral is the Frauenkirche. whose onion domed twin towers are a symbol of the city. It is remarkable that these towers escaped destruction during the airraids of the Second World War. This majestic church has a sparse and austere interior in which the whiteness of the walls and columns is nevertheless welcoming and reflects the spiritual values of our modem era.

Looking around this cathedral I recalled threpassageih Joseph Ratzinger's autobiography in which he describes how he was consecrated a bishop within these walls: "It was a splendid day in the early summer, on the eve of Pentecost. The cathedral, which gave an impression of sobriety following its reconstruction at the end of the Second World War, was decked out magnificently, creating a mood of joy that was irresistibly welcoming." He immediately went on to point out that the consecration that took place here was extremely important for him, since "what was started on that day with the laying on of hands in the cathedral of Munich is still the very basis of my life.

When he wrote these words, Ratzinger was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He then became Pope; but I think that these words are as true today as they were then. Let us not forget that the Pope is, first and foremost, the Bishop of Rome.

Nearby. in the oldest parish in the city. is the church of St Peter with its 92-metre high bell tower. Referred to by the locals as Alter Peter or "Old Peter", this splendid Baroque church is a great favourite of Joseph Ratzinger. Its ceiling is entirely covered in frescos, while life-size wooden statues of the Apostles line the nave. Above the altar stands a large statue of St Peter wearing a precious tiara. Tradition dictates that it is taken off whenever a pope dies, only to be put back — this rite being marked with a solemn procession — when a new one is elected.

St Peter's is the right place for those who like traditional liturgy, who are seeking a dignified setting, and who wish to receive Communion kneeling down. The altar is still placed as it was before the liturgical reforms intro facing the east, where the Light — Christ — first appears. But the new parish priest has apparently announced that he wants to have it facing the congregation, as now happens in almost every church. Who knows whether the reform of the reform. which Ratzinger is known to favour, will succeed in preventing this.

We now stepped out of the church. It was 11 in the morning. and in the old Niirnberger Bratwurst Glockl restaurant a number of workers were eating freshly made Weisswiirste, or soft white sausages. The ingredients and consistency of this speciality are unique and, from the Roman point of view, rather strange. These sausages are made almost entirely of veal, with bacon. salt, pepper and parsley added, the whole bound together in an egg base. They are eaten as soon as they are made, generally in mid-morning, and are served in a tureen, still floating in the hot water in which they were prepared, since they are not cooked, but just heated. They are eaten together with Brezen and sweet mustard, and must of course be washed down with a generous jug of beer.

It was now time for a brief visit to the Fiirstenried Park, where Ratzinger has enjoyed walking ever since he was at the seminary, and which he also liked to visit when he was the bishop of this city. In 1925 it was bought by the diocese, together with the princely residence — formerly a hunting lodge — that lies within its boundaries. During the Second World War. when the Georgianurn diocesan seminary, which Ratzinger was attending, became too dangerous because of the air-raids, the students were moved here to Rirstenried, to continue, as best they could in those rhantie times, their lessons and their training for the priesthood.

Our tour then took us to the palace of the Archbishop of Munich, with its fine facade designed by Cuvillies in 1733, and formerly the property of Count Holnstein, an illegitimate offspring of the Wittelsbach family. This is why the large coat of arms on the outside of the building has a red band running through it.

We were welcomed by Fr Rupert von Stolbert, the cardinal's amiable young secretary. On the ground floor we saw a charming late 18th-century wooden statue given by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, and which is often used in the procession on Palm Sunday. The statue is of Jesus riding an ass.

Joseph Ratzinger was the first priest of the diocese in 80 years to be made head of the pastoral government of this large and ancient Bavarian diocese, which embraces two places: Munich and. as we shall see, the nearby town of Freising.

When called to this post, the future Pope was a lecturer based in Regensburg, having previously taught theology at the universities of Bonn, Minister and Tubingen. He had accepted the chair of Theology and Dogma at Regensburg partly because the university there was more peaceful than many others, where student revolts were in full swing, and partly because this Bavarian town was also home to his brother Georg, who was director of the famous youth choir there (the Regensbi irger Dornspatzen). Ratzinger had thus hoped to reunite his family and to live with his brother and his sister Maria; and as he said in his autobiography, the proposed promotion to the Archbishopric of Munich surprised him and also threw his life into some disorder He would probably have preferred to carry on as an academic and lecturer, but the obedience that has been a hallmark of his life of course led him to accept.

Well before he became Pope. Ratzinger asked John Paul II more than once to relieve him of his duties as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith so that he could return to Regensburg and continue his beloved studies; but the Pope always refused to lose such a valued colleague. And then, after the death of John Paul II, it was providence, acting through the Sacred College of Cardinals, that elected to keep him in Rome definitively. This time too, no longer young yet still wishing to pursue his career as a theologian, Ratzinger immediately accepted the burdensome responsibility that the Church had placed on his shoulders. But let us return to Munich, where Ratzinger was ordained a bishop on May 28, 1977. The motto that the young bishop chose, and was to keep when he became Pope, was Cooperatores veritatis ("Fellow workers in the tnoh") — entirely suitable. granted the demands of the mission that lay ahead, and also his experience as a peritus to Josef Frings, the cardinal from Cologne, as well as his experience as a lecturer in various universities in Germany. He was all too aware of the difficulties that awaited him in this post, having already experienced the ferment that was shaking the Catholic world and that threatened to undermine the solidity of its faith; just as he was not blind to the dangers which, in this climate, now threatened Truth itself— which. when not actually denied, was smothered and confused by other partial and often insignificant truths.

Why is this attitude so common nowadays? Perhaps the concept of Truth is considered too huge for us human beings? Or perhaps — longing as we do for a freedom which we ill understand — we are afraid to be judged by Truth itself. However, when Truth is absent, it is replaced in every heart by anguish, and everything seems to lose its meaning. Addressing this theme in a homily shortly before the conclave that elected him Pope, Ratzinger, then a senior cardinal, outlined the cturent situation of the Catholic faith with great lucidity: "How many doctrinal winds have we seen in these last two decades? How many ideological currents and changes in intellectual fashion.! ... From Marxism to liberalism and libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism... Whilst relativism — this is to say, allowing oneself to be carried here and there by any doctrinal wind — seems to be the only belief that is accepted today. We are creating a dictatorship of relativism that recognises nothing as de-fmitive and whose only ultimate value is the individual and his wishes."

How could I fail to reflect on all these things as I was looking around this archbishop's palace which had been home to the future Pope and witness to his life and pastoral activities; this residence -which had known his daily routines and had seen him at prayer? After all, this was one of the most promising and brilliant theologians in Germany, who during the Council opted decisively for progress, along with a group of determined colleagues; but who, being well balanced by nature and obedient towanl S the Holy S pirit had a change of heart when he saw the danger inherent in a nunaber of excessively radical positions.

This is 4o.n extract from In the Footsteps of Joseph Ratzinger by Alessandra Borghese which is published by Family Publications priced £7.95

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