Robert Francis Prevost Martínez wanted to recall some moments with the Pope Emeritus. A priest of the Order of Saint Augustine, Father Robert has been bishop of Chiclayo, Peru, since 26 September 2015. He was appointed by Pope Francis as a member of the Congregation for the Clergy in 2019 and a year later he became a member of the Congregation for Bishops. He was re-elected as second vice-president of the Peruvian Bishops' Conference in 2022.
“Jesus, ich liebe dich!” “Jesus, I love you.” As I sat down to write these thoughts on the relationship that the Order of St. Augustine had with Pope Benedict, a report was published that these were the final words spoken by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. And I am reminded of how deeply this man truly loved God, and of how he had totally dedicated his life to Christ and the Church.
Given the fact that his Pontificate (2005-2013) fell entirely within the years in which I served as Prior General of the Order, I was invited to write a reflection on the Augustinians’ relationship with Pope Benedict XVI, including some mention of a personal experience or encounter with him.
There are certainly interesting historical details, such as the number of Augustinians who were appointed bishop by him (there were six, including Cardinal Prosper Grech; the last one was Bishop Alberto Bochatey, of Argentina, who was named by Benedict XVI and then ordained after Benedict’s resignation, just four days before the election of Pope Francis). There were truly magnificent events, such as Pope Benedict’s visits to Augustinian houses, especially the visit to San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro in Pavia, to pray at the tomb of St. Augustine (2007), and his visit to the Monastery of El Escorial during the World Youth Day celebrations (2011). Both of these events were particularly significant for the Order and the Church and have been well documented.
The love with which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI gave his life in service to the Church was a blessing for the augustinians
Other encounters are certainly noteworthy, beginning with the period in which I knew him as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. When he was elected Dean of the College of Cardinals (2002), he was given as his titular church the Augustinian church of Saint Aurea, in Ostia Antica. That was where I first came to know the authentically humble and gentle man that he truly was. Previously, I had greeted him several times, meeting him on occasion as he walked across St. Peter’s Square, and I was always pleasantly surprised by his graciousness. But sitting next to him at lunch (pranzo) after the Eucharistic celebration at Saint Aurea, I was able to gain some glimpses into the authentic balance he portrayed between mind and heart, faith and intellect, that were in a simple but profound way, part of who he was. We all know that he was a scholar, and an Augustinian scholar, but he was also “augustinian” in his ability to bring together different dimensions of life in his deep spirit of faith.
On one occasion, in the Vatican gardens, I took part in the blessing of a mosaic of Our Mother of Good Counsel that had been crafted and installed through the generosity of a benefactor. After the blessing, I briefly explained to the Holy Father the history of our Augustinian devotion to our Mother of Good Counsel at Genazzano. While he was genuinely interested in what I was saying, he responded to me with a simple phrase: the Augustinian Order must dedicate itself to studying Saint Augustine. His great appreciation for our Order’s commitment to the study of patristics and especially to Saint Augustine was again apparent to me on the occasion of our brother Augustinian Prosper Grech’s being created as a Cardinal. Pope Benedict’s words to me when I accompanied the newly created Cardinal Grech to greet him the day after the Consistory were clearly an expression of the Church’s gratitude for all that the Augustinians are doing in and through the Augustinian Patristic Institute as well as in other areas of Augustinian research.
The love with which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI gave his life in service to the Church was a blessing for the augustinians and for the Church. His intellectual gifts as well as his authentic humanity continue to be a source of inspiration for many. And now, after so many years of service, the words of St. Augustine are now also Benedict’s: “This is the eternal life for which we pine. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” (Confessions IX, 10).