I was a 21-year-old Protestant college student when Pope Benedict the XVI delivered his Regensburg Address. I remember sitting in the dining hall and reading the New York Times‘ coverage of his speech’s effect all across the globe. Out of curiosity, I went back to my dorm room and downloaded the text of the speech.
Three years later, I became a Catholic. I consider reading the text of his address as one of the three most important moments in my journey towards becoming a Catholic.
I am a nobody, but I do represent the legacy this Pope will leave behind him: a wandering world that was startled to attention by his courageous leadership, then drawn in by his message of love and human dignity.
The Regensburg Address was an act of pure guts, as was so much of what Pope Benedict has done throughout his tenure.
He took the enormous baggage of the sexual abuse crisis by the handle, opened it, and began unpacking. Because of his courageous leadership on this front, much progress has been made in healing wounds that have lasted decades, and the Catholic Church now is an institution with the strongest protections for children.
He tackled difficult but necessary reforms of all sorts, instigating apostolic visitations (or reviews) of American priests, then American women religious, as well taking on reforms of Church liturgy and architecture.
Is it any wonder that he is tired?
But most importantly, the tenure of Pope Benedict is one bookended in love. The world was shocked when “God’s Rottweiler” issued his first papal encyclical: Deus Caritas Est, or God is Love. Far from the firebomb the world expected, Pope Benedict established that he was bringing Christianity back to its most basic tenet: love. After a dark and bloody century, one with two world wars, countless massacres, and tens of millions of souls lost to abortion, love was what the world needed most.
His final act is one of self-sacrificial love, stepping down in a gesture of the profoundest humility so that the Church might move forward with full speed to address the mounting challenges of this millennium.
This was a man who never wanted power. This was a man who wanted to spend his old age in a library. This was a man who humbly pled to the world in his inaugural address, “Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.”
Dearest Pope, may you find peace and rest.
And may we all find inspiration his example of love in its most courageous form.
Ashely McGuire is a Senior Fellow at the Catholic Association.