Inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI 

Tuvalu #1054 – A 2007 Pope Benedict photomosaic stamp sheet.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was inaugurated as the 265th Pope of the Catholic Church on April 24, 2005.

Joseph Alois Ratzinger was born April 16, 1927 in Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, Germany, and was baptized the same day. When Joseph was five years old, he joined a group of children in welcoming the Cardinal Archbishop of Munich to his town. Joseph was so enamored with the Cardinal and his vibrant robes, he declared that day his wish to become a cardinal himself. Throughout his childhood, Joseph’s family moved several times due to his father’s anti-Nazi activities, which made his family a regular target of Hitler’s regime.

In 1943, while 16-year-old Joseph was studying in seminary school, he was drafted into the German anti-aircraft corps. He then trained in the German infantry, but did not have to serve due to illness. Joseph then left the military, returning to his family home to find American troops had set up headquarters there. Joseph spent the next few months in a POW camp until the war ended in the summer of 1945.

Dominica #2650 was issued to honor Pope Benedict’s first visit to the U.S.

That fall, Joseph and his brother Georg entered Saint Michael Seminary and later studied at the Ducal Georgianum in Munich. Both brothers were ordained on June 29, 1951. Of that day, Joseph recalled, “at the moment the elderly Archbishop laid his hands on me, a little bird – perhaps a lark – flew up from the altar in the high cathedral and trilled a little joyful song.”

Joseph then became a professor at Freising College in 1958. The following year he began teaching at the University of Bonn and then the University of Münster in 1963 and the University of Tübingen in 1966. After three years at Tübingen, Joseph moved back to Bavaria to teach at the University of Regensburg. Here he co-founded the theological journal, Communio in 1972 (which is still published today in 17 languages).

On March 24, 1977, Joseph was appointed Archbishop of Munich and Freising. The following June, Pope Paul VI appointed him Cardinal Priest of Santa Maria Consolatrice al Tiburtino. Then in November 1981, Pope John Paul II appointed him Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and was later promoted to Cardinal Bishop of Velletri-Segni.

Liberia #2797 was issued for Pope Benedict’s 85th birthday.

As early as January 2005, rumors that Joseph was the most likely candidate to succeed Pope John Paul II began to circulate. A few months later, he was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. Then, after months of declining health, Pope John Paul II died on April 2, 2005. Joseph performed the Pope’s funeral mass, delivering a moving homily honoring his life and good works.

Sierra Leone #3048-49 honors Pope Benedict’s 2010 visit to the United Kingdom.

About two weeks after Pope John Paul II’s passing, the College of Cardinals met to elect a new Pope. On April 19, 2005, they elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Prior to his election as Pope, then-Cardinal Ratzinger prayed to God, “Do not do this to me! You have younger and better people at your disposal, who can face this great responsibility with greater dynamism and greater strength.” The humble Cardinal, who was ready for a peaceful retirement, received encouragement from another Cardinal, who reminded Ratzinger of his homily (sermon) for Pope John Paul II’s funeral. At the funeral, Ratzinger praised his predecessor for always following the Lord’s call, even to places he never wanted to go. Cardinal Ratzinger’s confidence was quickly restored, and he soon happily embraced his new position as Pope.

One of the new Pope’s first duties was to select an appropriate name for himself. Ratzinger chose Benedict, Latin for “the blessed.” He chose the name to honor Pope Benedict XV and St. Benedict of Nursia.

Palau #974 honors Pope Benedict’s visit to Israel.

Pope Benedict’s inauguration took place on April 24, 2005. After paying his respects at the Tomb of St. Peter, the Pope and Cardinals went to Saint Peter’s Square for the Inauguration Mass. Here, Pope Benedict received the pallium (a wool band worn around the neck) and the Ring of the Fisherman (all Popes are considered successors of St. Peter, who was a fisherman). In the homily of his inaugural mass, Benedict stressed the importance of allowing Christ into one’s life, saying, “Open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.”

Tuvalu #1104G was issued for Benedict’s fifth year as Pope.

Within a month of his election, Pope Benedict began the beatification process (submitting for sainthood) for Pope John Paul II. Usually, the church must wait five years before beginning this process. However, Pope Benedict cited “exceptional circumstances” and waived this waiting period.

Like Pope John Paul II before him, Pope Benedict traveled extensively in the early years of his papacy. However, he would only serve less than eight years, submitting his resignation in February 2013, citing a “lack of strength of mind and body” because of his advanced age. He was the first pope to resign since Pope Gregory XII in 1415.

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  1. This Day in History is truly recent history, but valuable nevertheless. Paraphrasing Eamon Duffy’s book “Saints and Sinners” on the history of the Popes, I am not surprised that Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922) has been some source of inspiration to the name chosen by the Emeritus Pope. One can but wonder why Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) would not have been an inspiration as well. This Pope, elected following a blocked conclave of six months, during the era of the “ancient regime” has been one of the most glorious occupants of the See of St. Peter. He was 200 years ahead of his time, a realistic, humble, funny, very wise man, who even received praise by Voltaire and by members of the English parliament upon his passing. Although not canonized, he certainly belongs to Duffy’s category of Saints.

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