Benedict XVI : Memories

Benedict XVI : Memories

+ Michael Cardinal Fitzgerald, M.Afr.

I had more to do with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) than with him as Pope Benedict XVI.

According to the rules laid down in Pastor Bonus, the reform of the Roman Curia under Pope John Paul II, all dicasteries had to have the approval of the CDF before publishing any document that touched upon theology. This was the case for Dialogue and Proclamation, published in 1991 by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID. Become now the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue) together with the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (CEP). This involved three-way meetings of the top officials of the CDF, CEP and PCID. Cardinal Ratzinger was always well-prepared with written notes. He never bluffed his way with many words in answer to a question. He was always precise and polite in presenting his opinion.

Cardinal Ratzinger, at the request of a former student of his who had been chosen as the Orthodox bishop of Chambésy, Switzerland, became a founder member of the Foundation for Inter-cultural and Interreligious Dialogue based in Geneva. Before he was elected Pope, he asked me to replace him on the Board of the Foundation. I mention this because it shows that he had confidence in me. When, in 2006, so during his pontificate, I was sent to Egypt as Nuncio, it was not because Pope Benedict disagreed with my attitude towards Islam and relations with Muslims, as the social media at the time insisted.

The same media stated that had I been still the President of the PCID Pope Benedict would have shown me the draft of his lecture at Regensburg in September 2006 and the conflict that ensued with Muslims would have been avoided. I think, though I have no way of verifying this assertion, that Pope Benedict would not have asked the advice of anyone in preparing a lecture to be delivered at the university where he used to teach.

Had I been consulted I would have said that speaking about Muhammad is like treading on holy ground, and so it is necessary to have the delicacy to take off one’s shoes and tread lightly. One can understand the reaction among Muslims to the negative quotation that Pope Benedict used in his Regensburg speech. As one Muslim leader said to me at the time: “If Pope Benedict had said ‘I don’t agree with this’ there would have been little reaction, but unfortunately it was only later that it was made clear he did not agree with the quotation.” (On this whole question of the Regensburg lecture, see the special dossier in Islamochristiana 32(20060) pp.273-297).

During his pontificate Pope Benedict did not receive Nuncios in audience, which is strange since Nuncios are the personal representatives of the Sovereign Pontiff. This meant that between 2006 and 2012 I had no relations with him. After retiring I was granted a private audience and found that Pope Benedict was well briefed on Egypt and had many questions about the situation there. He had, after all, presided over the special Synod of Bishops for the Middle East and published the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente.

We will miss him for a long time

The death of a confrere is often a source of sadness, but the one of Richard, Cardinal Richard, is felt as a tragedy because it is difficult for us to separate it from the succession of events since May. He was appointed Cardinal, then President of SECAM, he came to Rome for the consistory and for this we mobilised ourselves to give thanks and celebrate here at the Generalate, receiving delegations and friends from all over! All of a sudden, everything stopped!

Since his death, we have tried to make sense of it all. Only one feeling prevails: only God knows. It is only in faith, in the word of God, that we have found consolation, for faith and the word do indeed bring us back to what we deeply are, brothers and sisters of Christ, adopted sons and daughters destined for the fullness of life in God. Baptised with Christ into death, as we heard in the first reading, Richard entered and still lives in the new life. We believe that, as in his life he ate the “living bread that came down from heaven”, he will “live forever” and we hope that we too will live with him when the time comes.

Allow me to share a word about Cardinal Richard. Those who lived with him appreciated his total commitment to the good of the Society and of the confreres. Richard was a great worker but he was also a charming companion. As we know, his health was not good and several times he had to stop and had to be hospitalised. But when he was discharged, he was back at it again: trips, visits, meetings and conferences. Richard had become a true representative of our Society and an icon for many of us. His last appointments show how much his intelligence, his clear-sightedness and his commitment were recognised at the level of the Church in Africa and of the Universal Church.

During the Mass of thanksgiving for his nomination as Cardinal that I presided over here, I mentioned how happy we were to welcome different delegations in the house where he lived for 16 years! That’s longer than he lived anywhere else in the same place! It is beautiful in a way that it is in this house that he spent his last days on earth.

We will miss him for a long time. We pray that he may rest in peace and be reunited in joy with the One he served so well.

Father Stanley Lubungo,
Superior General
Farewell Mass – 19/12/2022

Pontifical Urbaniana University, Mass for H.E. Richard Kuuia Baawobr,


Before the body of the late Cardinal, His Eminence Richard Kuuia Baawobr, M.Afr., leaves Rome for the funeral in Ghana, which will take place on January 11 and 12, 2023, a Eucharistic celebration will take place on Saturday, December 17, 2022, in the chapel of the Pontifical Urbaniana University, at 10.30 a.m. It will be presided over by His Eminence Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Pro-Prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization. Concelebrants are asked to bring alb and purple stole.

Rome, December 9, 2022

Andre-L. Simonart, M.Afr.,
Secretary General

The Immaculate Conception 2022 GMG

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Generalate 2022

It struck me this time, more than before that the Immaculate Conception is celebrated during the Season of Advent. During advent, the Church urges us to renew the memory of the great love God has shown to us by sending his Son to dwell among us. We recall that Christ’s coming was not only for the benefit of his contemporaries; his power extends to all of us, if through faith we willingly accept the grace he brought to the world if we live in obedience to him.

The coming of Jesus the saviour announces salvation. Though we essentially understand this in terms of our communion with God, which is the grace of the incarnation, the readings of the past days, much to our benefit in the situations that we are facing as humanity but also as the Lavigerie family, inspire in us consolation, strength, inner peace and trust in the Lord, and in so doing, lead us to look to our salvation in terms of redemption from all that enslaves us, brief, from the burden and consequences of sin in its various dimensions whether personal or social.

The coming of the Lord announces new times. It announces a new era for humanity and for the universe: where “the lowly will find joy in the Lord, and the poor rejoice in the Holy one of Israel, for the tyrant will be no more and the arrogant will have gone” (Is 29: 18-18), it is a time where sin and its consequences of injustice will be no more! That newness is part God’s eternal and loving plan of salvation as the letter to the Ephesians actually proclaims: We were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy, to be blameless, immaculate, before him in love to the praise of God’s glorious grace. Mary in the dogma that we are celebrating: the Immaculate Conception or the belief that the Virgin Mary was free of original sin from the moment of her conception,  appears to be the new and concrete realisation of God’s eternal and loving plan of Salvation. Though we are marked by the story of sin, which is our experience, can still say with Saint Paul in the letter to the Ephesians that like Mary we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy, to be blameless, immaculate, before him in love to the praise of God’s glorious grace

The important thing then becomes for us to seek to live up to this? How can we live up to the God’s call for us before the foundations of the world. It is here that Mary becomes for us, with reference to Eve, the new mother of all the living. With her begins a new era. The era of our forefathers and foremothers, Adam and Eve with its structures marked by Satan’s power have been undone in her. Mary also becomes the example of the new people of God, meant to obey God. We now know, with Adam and Eve, where disobeying to God leads. We know where sin leads. By God’s grace a new era starts with Mary. We may ask what is the example set up by Mary.

Not much is said of her in the Gospels, but one essential feature characterises her, she is a woman of faith and of trust in God, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” This is where her greatness of lies, if we may say so. It is what Jesus indicates as such. Mary’s greatness did not lie, as some thought, in the fact that her womb carried Jesus nor that her breast nursed him (Lk 11: 27-28), but in the fact that she heard the word of God and obeyed it! A thing that Adam and Eve did not do! Jesus’ mother, sisters and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.

As we continue our journey through this season of Advent let us open ourselves more and more to God’s grace for it to remove any obstacles to his presence so that he may come at any moment to dwell spiritually in our hearts and in our lives and the lives of all, for the establishment of his Kingdom among us.

Stan Lubungo

A bishop close to his people

A bishop close to his priests and his people

In his homily at the Mass on Monday, 5 December, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Bishops since 2010, underlined some of the virtues of Cardinal Richard Kuuia Baawobr, such as his great spirituality, his missionary spirit and his remarkable intelligence.

A thoughtful zeal to proclaim eternal truths.
Cardinal Re outlines the various stages of the life of the Bishop of Wa, from his birth into a Catholic family on 21 June 1959 in Nandom in the Lawra District of Ghana to his death on 27 November 2022 in Rome.

Cardinal Re emphasized that Richard Kuuia Baawobr’s life is marked by a spirit of initiative, organisational skills, and a thoughtful diligence in proclaiming the eternal truths of the Gospel, with the language and style of the new times. He also understood that the missionary commitment of the Society of Missionaries of Africa should not be limited to Africa but should also be extended to countries with a Catholic tradition, which were in need of the Word of God and of a revival in the renewal of faith and Christian witness.

With him went a very significant figure of “the African bishop“.
In 2016 Richard Kuuia Baawobr was appointed bishop of Wa by Pope Francis; he was a pastor close to his priests and his people; always available to meet and say a word of kindness to those around him. He knew deeply “the responsibility that lay upon him by virtue of being a successor of the Apostles”. Last July, the plenary assembly of the episcopate of Africa and Madagascar elected him as its president, emphasised Cardinal Re, and affirmed that “with him disappears a very significant figure of the ‘African bishop'”.

The dean of the college of cardinals also emphasised that “this unexpected death, although it has caused consternation, is part of God’s inscrutable plan, mysterious but always inspired by love and strengthened by the immortal certainties of faith.

Commitment to mission in a spirit of openness.
In July 2020, the Holy Father appointed him as a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. This was the beginning of a close collaboration with the Apostolic See. In many situations he was seen as an industrious protagonist with a great sense of responsibility, a desire to do good and driven by an innate missionary spirit,” Cardinal Re continued. The Bishop of Wa was engaged in intense pastoral activity, with a view to a future at the service of the Church and humanity. Cardinal Baawobr gave much and seemed to promise even more. But “God’s ways are not our ways“, concluded Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re.

Cardinal Richard Baawobr

Official Communication

   On Saturday 15 October 2022 our confrere, Cardinal Richard Baawobr, was transferred from the Santo Spirito di Cassia Hospital to the Gemelli University Hospital with the help of the Vatican in order to receive the special care he still needs. Richard sends his greetings to all of you, keeps his spirits high and remains alert to what is happening in his diocese and in the Society. We continue to accompany our confrere with our prayers so that he may recover all his strength and quickly resume his ministry.

Rome, 19th October 2022.

André-Léon Simonart,
Secretary General.

Growing old whit our elders, French-speaking confreres

Meeting of French-speaking confreres in charge of elderly communities

Four days of sharing, four days trying to learn and understand, and finally, four days of facing up to our individual responsibilities. This is the feeling that remained with me after this meeting in Rome between the various superiors of retirement homes in the province. And what did we learn? … solutions? … methods? … new ideas? None of this, except the observation that no two retirement homes are alike, no model is ideal, our elderly confreres are all different, and none of them ages according to the rules, but they all deserve respect and recognition for all they have achieved in their long missionary lives out in their missionary territory. It is also true that each one of them still feels they are missionaries and will be missionaries until they “return to” the Father, even though it is the same Father that each one of them has made known in their own way and who has always supported them throughout their lives. But can we speak of ” returning to… “?

This is why all our discussions were marked by respect, even affection, but never by certainty. This is perhaps also why Gérard Chabanon let us talk a lot without looking at his watch, because in the end we all came to this slightly guilty realisation: if our elderly confreres each have problems – and they do – it is we, the people in charge, who feel them the most. 

That is why this meeting has been so important. It has allowed us to assume our responsibilities in a new light, thanks to the sharing of our fears and doubts, and sometimes our disillusionment, to our informal meetings which are often more fruitful than the common meetings themselves, to the common prayer in which our elderly confreres have pride of place and finally to our poverty, which is a source of infinite richness. The Superiors of the Society in Rome did not get it wrong, as they did everything to welcome and thank us; but none of them ventured to give us the slightest advice and it was much better that way. On the plane back to Paris and to “my” community, I felt a little disoriented but happy and at peace. I felt much more “responsible” since I discovered that I would no longer have to accompany elderly confreres but rather in union with all the confreres in charge of retirement homes in the province, we would have to grow old together with our “old people” just as our novice masters had tried to grow with us. This is perhaps the only conclusion that, unconsciously, we came to seek in Rome, a source of hope and comfort.

Clément Forestier


Growing old with our elders, English-speaking confreres

Meeting of English-speaking confreres in charge of elderly communities

This meeting was held in Rome from Sunday 6th March to Friday 11th March 2022 and was hosted by the Provincial, Gerard Chabanon, and the Assistant Provincial, Georges Jacques.

Unlike previous meetings there was no outside invited speaker or animator.  This had not always proved to be beneficial.  Instead, the meeting would proceed at the pace and in the interests of those present with guidance from Gerard and Georges.

We met on Monday morning for a recollection led by Francis Barnes in which he reminded us that, especially in old age, we come to realise more fully our total dependence on others but above all on God.  The Nunc Dimitus of Simeon in the temple reminds us the peace and beauty of “letting go” and placing the past, the future and all in the hands of the Lord.

Frank led our Eucharist that day and on other days we celebrated together in the chapel of the Uganda Martyrs. It was a special moment to pray for those entrusted to our care.

In the afternoon we began our sharing on the different experiences we are living which would take us through until lunchtime on Tuesday.  There was no hurry and each was allowed time to present their report.  It is clear that the setup of our houses differs in each country.  In the Netherlands and in Germany there are opportunities for collaboration with other organisations, lay and religious.  In Ireland and in the UK this is more difficult.  However, our confreres are the same and the joys and challenges of caring are the same. It was clear that we are all happy in our ministry and enjoy what we have been asked to do.

On Tuesday we spent time, with the help of videos, discussing the signs, causes and effects of dementia which is on the increase everywhere.  This led to a discussion on the importance of every confrere having in place all the legal paperwork needed when one is seriously ill or has died. The decision when to move a confrere from our care to more professional care is a delicate one.

A special mention was made of those living outside community and our duty of pastoral care for them.

On Wednesday time was given to our life in community and how to energise and motivate our communities. Clearly our community and personal prayer is the mainstay of our life together and is well practised everywhere.  It was noted that visiting individuals is an important role of the one in charge and listening to them and their life stories.  Outings and community games are a way of drawing us together and relaxing.  Special mention was made of inviting confreres to write their memoirs, which is not only therapeutic but which can also contribute to the archives of the Society.

The group put relaxing into practice on Thursday by taking a day out together.  We visited the church of Cardinal Lavigerie, Basilica di S. Agnese.  His name and crest are clearly to be seen in the church.  The church stands above the smallest catacombs in Rome and we were able to visit them with the help of an excellent guide.  In the evening we joined the community for the Eucharist and after supper the tradional serata romana.

In conclusion the meeting was one of the most relaxed and positive I have attended.  There were no solutions or striking ways forward but an open and honest sharing of the joys and challenges of our ministry.

We thank Gerard and Georges for their support and their encouragement clearly felt throughout the meeting.  And finally, of course, we thank the community of the generalate for their warm and fraternal welcome.

Jozef de Beeker


You said ... SYNODALITY ?

It was in his mind for a long time, we read about it, talked about it, discussed about it… Now Pope Francis declared the process active. But are we clear about what is that Synod on Synodality ? Here is a selection of three videos, quite enlightening on the topic. The first one is proposed by the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar and AMECEA. Parts of it are in English, parts in French. The second one, dating back to 2018, is a documentary of the French Catholic channel KTO, which discusses very clearly the concept of Synodality. It is obviously in French. The third video is made by a famous British Catholic journalist and author, who presents also very clearly the mind of Pope Francis on the process of Synodality. And obviously, that video is in English. 

Pope Francis has inaugurated the path towards the Synod on #Synodality. “It is a process that involves the local Churches, in different phases and from the bottom up, in an exciting and engaging effort that can create a style of communion and participation directed to mission.” – Pope Francis To enrich our “journeying together” as the pilgrim and missionary People of God, the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) is partnering with the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) to provide resources that will enable the local churches, in the region and the entire Africa, to engage fruitfully and constructively in this synodal process. In this edition, we asked some African religious and youth what Synodality means for them.

“La Foi prise au mot” proposes to evoke a theme that we would not have spoken of a few years ago and which is becoming more and more important in the Church: synodality. This is a traditional form of government in the Church, called for by the Second Vatican Council, and widely promoted by Pope Francis, with increasingly strong demands from the faithful, those who are sometimes called “grassroots Christians”. This is the theme that the Church’s theologians are currently discussing, while dioceses and their bishops are trying to put it into practice. So what is synodality? Why is it a topical issue? How does it correspond to the mission of the Church? To talk about this subject, Régis Burnet will welcome Arnaud Join-Lambert, theologian and professor at the Catholic University of Louvain, and Isabelle Morel, lecturer at the Catholic Institute of Paris and deputy director of the Institut supérieur de pastorale catéchétique. (“La Foi prise au Mot” of 18/11/2018.)

Austen Ivereigh is a UK-based Roman Catholic journalist, author, commentator and biographer on Pope Francis. In this very good video, he explains and comments on Pope Francis’ vision for a synodal Church. (24 June 2021)