Excerpt From "My Brother the Pope"

"Of Course, He Was Still the Same Old Joseph, and He Still Is Today"

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SAN FRANCISCO, FEB. 24, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a ZENIT-exclusive excerpt from "My Brother the Pope," by Monsignor Georg Ratzinger as told to Michael Hesemann. Ignatius Press will release the English translation of the book March 1.

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From Chapter IX: Pope

Like probably most Catholics, I, too, attentively followed the last days of John Paul II. I was aware that a great life was coming to an end in a completely organic way. Everyone sensed that he would not recover again from this final illness, yet it was all the more admirable how patiently and calmly he endured it. He even cheered up the people who had come to Rome, and somehow, for all his despondency about his own helplessness, he also radiated joy and confidence that he would soon be with his Heavenly Father. So it was a worthy end of a great personage, whose work was to continue from now on “over there”.

What I admired very much were the many young people who spontaneously set out for Rome so as to manifest once more their solidarity with this great pope. It is always said that the youth want nothing to do with the Church, but this was strikingly disproved at that time. On the contrary, there are many young people, too, who are spontaneously attracted by the Church, once they have experienced that the everyday routine cannot answer their questions and cannot give any meaning to their lives, that this other thing, faith, is needed for that.

During the next two weeks, I was repeatedly asked by people, and by journalists too, whether my brother would become pope. My answer was always the same: “No, he certainly will not!” The conclave would never elect a man at his age – he was just turning seventy-eight. It was different in the case of John XXIII, because his predecessor, Pius XII, had not held a consistory during his last five years in office and had not appointed any new cardinals. The College of Cardinals was therefore more or less aging then, so that they were forced to elect an older candidate, who at the age of seventy-six, almost seventy-seven, was nevertheless a good year younger than my brother at the time of the 2005 conclave. Now, though, the College of Cardinals was as strong as it had ever been at a conclave; there had never been so many cardinals. There were many great and talented men of all ages among them, so there was really no need to elect one of the oldest. Therefore, it was quite clear to me that a younger man would be the next pope.

I even experienced the “Habemus Papam” live. At the time I was called by a journalist who said she had just heard that white smoke had gone up in Rome and wanted to hear from me whether I knew anything more specific. “No,” I answered truthfully, “I know nothing.” Then I turned on the television and heard it there, like everybody else.

Then in fact the name Ratzinger was mentioned! I must quite honestly say that at that moment I was rather disheartened. It was a great challenge, an enormous task for him, I thought, and I was seriously worried. I saw neither the pomp nor the beauty of it, but only the challenge of this office, which now demanded everything of him, and the burden it meant for him. And I was sad that now he would probably have no more time for me. So that evening I went to bed rather depressed. Throughout that evening and then again well into the following afternoon the telephone rang nonstop, yet now it did not matter to me at all. I simply did not answer. “Nuts to you”, I thought to myself!

I did not call him, either. I told myself I would not reach him now anyway, so many people were around him at the moment who all wanted something from him. He called then the next morning, or rather: he tried to call me, but because the telephone in my house was ringing constantly and getting on my nerves, I did not answer it. “Keep on ringing, you can ring without me, too”, I thought, while it may have been my brother calling! At some point, Frau Heindl, my housekeeper, answered the telephone, and so he had her on the line first and not me.

She was naturally somewhat shocked that this stubborn caller was none other than the Pope. If I remember correctly, she was not even able to connect me with him, for some reason. At any rate, it was some time before we were finally able to speak with each other. Now, thank God, I have a second telephone upstairs in the living room. An acquaintance arranged this for me when he learned that I got calls from so many people that I sometimes did not answer when it was my brother on the line. He alone knows the number for this second line. When this telephone rings, then I know that my brother, the Pope, is calling me. But at that time, of course, I did not yet have it.

On the telephone, he already seemed quite calm again. At the moment of his election, however, he told me, it had struck him like a bolt of lightning. It was so unforeseeable, it came so suddenly in the voting, that the working of the Holy Spirit was obvious. He then surrendered quickly to  him, because he, too, recognized God’s will in it.

Shortly afterward, Bishop Müller (Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller of the Regensburg Diocese) called and invited me to travel with him to my brother’s installation, and of course I gladly accepted. So I had the privilege of driving with His Excellency to the airport and flew with him to Rome as part of the delegation from Regensburg.

In Rome, then, I lived first in the old cardinal’s apartment belonging to my brother, since he was still staying together with the other cardinals in the Vatican guest house, the “Domus Sanctae Marthae” (Saint Martha’s House) – for security reasons; he had to be guarded, after all. The apartment was directly opposite the Apostolic Palace, but outside the Vatican City State, on the Piazza Città Leonina. The next morning I picked him up, and then we drove together to his apartment. A gigantic crowd of people had gathered in front of it, and they applauded immediately; he greeted them briefly, and then we went in.

Of course, he was still the same old Joseph, and he still is today. The working of the Holy Spirit is limited to his official activity, but as a human being he has not changed. He does not stand on ceremony, does not try to be pretentious. He presents himself as who he is and does not want to slip into a role or wear a mask, as others may do. When Peter Seewald, for instance, describes him as a “charismatic pope” with a great influence on the world, then I must say he quite certainly does not exercise that influence consciously. Perhaps it is, after all, the influence of the Holy Spirit that lends him a certain charisma at his public appearances. Otherwise, he is now as before the kindly, friendly, and modest man he always was, quite unaffected and cordial.

© 2012 Ignatius Press – published with permission

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On the Net:

To pre-order the book, due out March 1: http://www.ignatius.com/Products/MBP-H/my-brother-the-pope.aspx

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On ZENIT's Web page: 

An interview with Michael Hesemann from before the book was released in the original German: http://www.zenit.org/article-33158?l=english