Bernardo M. Villegas
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Profiles of Two Saintly Pontiffs (Part 2)

          Now that we have established the fact that Gregoire is a real person and was indeed very close to the Pope, we can listen to his first-hand testimony that Pope Benedict was no grumpy, legalistic, unfeeling, scheming doctrinaire who lacked human warmth and empathy towards the people around him (as Two Popes tended to portray him).  In his reaction to “Two Popes”, Gregoire asserted: “I can say that I have served a good, magnanimous, kind Benedict XVI, completely disinterested in issues related to power and appearance.  I did it for eight long years and I keep a memory full of gratitude and tenderness.  So many moments I could talk about:  the public celebrations in St. Peter’s Square, the meetings at  the apostolic palace, the audiences, but also private moments, such as when on an Easter night, Benedict baptized a dear friend of mine and I acted as godfather, or when I had the opportunity to introduce my father and mother to the Pope.  And then I remembered the days I spent at Castel Gandolfo, where once, on my name day, Pope Benedict remembered me and sent me his good wishes through the secretary!  Or as when after dinner he had some portions of the dessert that had been served set aside and sent them to the Swiss guards on the night shift.  I still remember one evening:  I was enjoying the apple strudel that the Pope had sent me and I heard the sound of piano.  It was Benedict XVI playing Mozart!  A real movie scene!”

         Like hundreds of millions of Catholics from all over the world, Gregoire will never forget that last day of February 2013 when Pope Benedict XVI stepped down from the papacy: “And how could I forget February 28, 2013, the last day of the active pontificate?  On that day I, too, finished service as a Swiss guard, and Benedict XVI, although struggling with such a delicate situation, remembered me and made sure that I had found a new job.  That is why, I saw that the Pope whom I met has nothing to do with what is presented to us in fiction and in the press.  I add that in the eight years of my service I met a pope who possessed a high sense of responsibility, combined with an awareness of the dignity of the role he played and the greatness of the papacy.  All this, as I said, did not prevent him from being a simple and humble man, but sheltered him from all forms of demagogy and protagonism.

         “On the day of his election, he defined himself as ‘a simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord’ and I can confirm that this is the definition that most fits him.  Benedict said several times that when he was elected, he asked the Lord: ‘Why do you ask me this?  What are you asking me to do?, but he entrusted himself totally to God and accepted to be guided.  The choice of renunciation came, in my opinion, always from the point of view of service to the Church.  He acted as a courageous servant, as they know how to be true leaders.  For me, it was great honor to serve him and I will be forever grateful to him for what he gave during those years. He was an example to me that in my small way I try to imitate.”  

        From the testimony of a Swiss guard who spent eight long years in close contact with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, I hope we were able to get a truer picture of the personality of the retired pontiff.   As Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles wrote in his review of the Netflix film “Two Popes”, the “much-ballyhooed” film presented a complete caricature of Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI):  “That we are dealing with a caricature of Ratzinger becomes clear when, in the opening minutes of the film, the Bavarian Cardinal is presented as ambitiously plotting to secure his election as Pope in 2005.  On at least three occasions, the real Cardinal Ratzinger begged John Paul II to allow him to retire from his position as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and to take up a life of study and prayer.  He stayed on only because John Paul adamantly refused the requests.  And in 2005, upon the death of John Paul, even Ratzinger’s ideological opponents admitted that the now seventy-eight-year-old Cardinal wanted nothing more than to return to Bavaria and write his Christology.  The ambitious plotting fits, of course, the caricature of the ‘conservative’ churchman, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the flesh-and-blood Joseph Ratzinger.  Furthermore, in the scene depicting an imagined meeting between Pope Benedict and Cardinal Bergoglio in the gardens of Castel Gandolfo, the aged Pope frowningly lashes out at his Argentinian colleague, bitterly criticizing the Cardinal’s theology.  Once again, even Joseph Ratzinger’s detractors admit that ‘God’s Rottweiler’ is in fact invariably kind, soft-spoken and gentle in his dealings with others.  The barking dialogue is, again, a convenient caricature but not even close to the real Ratzinger.” (To be continued)