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I will not renounce the cross

POPE BENEDICT XVI held his final general audience in St Peter’s Square a day before his resignation took effect on February 28. In front of about 200,000 people, including some Chinese, he recalled that the acceptance of God’s call to serve as the successor of St. Peter had taught him not to renounce the cross.

The pope pointed out that while his eight-year papacy held moments of joy and light, he also sailed on choppy waters. Nevertheless, he was never lonely and thanked the people of God for understanding and respecting his decision.

He said that he believes his resignation is a positive dynamic in the Church, declaring that in stepping down from his duties, he is renouncing a right to or ownership of something. His historic voluntary act of resigning from the papacy is not something negative, but rather something positive, intended to enable the Church to proclaim the gospel more effectively.

By choosing to retire into the contemplative life, he is giving witness to the real foundation of Christian faith. In front of the crowd, he explicitly pointed out that he will not renounce the cross and will live out his life anchoring the barque of Peter on prayer.

The Vatican Secretariat of State dismissed conspiracy theories that ignored the faith aspect of the pope’s decision, saying they were designed to manipulate the result of the upcoming conclave.

Even some Church media put simplistic interpretations on the pope’s resignation. Nevertheless, tens of thousands of people came to bid him farewell, showing their love and respect. This reflects the comfort, love and hope the pope has brought to the world.

The process of electing a new pope and finding someone who is suitable to lead the Church is the specific and direct responsibility of the cardinals, but it requires the prayer and discernment of the whole Church. Consequently, there seems to be something incongruous in well-known bookmakers giving odds on it.

As Pope Benedict said, the powerful torrents of secularisation will depreciate human dignity and sin will pollute the goodness of God.

Over the years, the pope expressed joy, as well as his concern for the faith life and formation of young people at successive World Youth Days. In Australia in 2008, he sent a text message to every individual registered saying, “Young friend, God and his people expect much from you, because you have within you the Father’s supreme gift: the Spirit of Jesus.”

In the manner of Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict’s dream of visiting China remains unfulfilled and, despite much effort, Holy See-Beijing relations have arguably reached their lowest ebb ever.

Over the past years, the pope has left the Church and the world a catalogue of invaluable teaching in his encyclicals, books and Sunday angelus reflections. Pope Benedict gave strong witness to renouncing the values of this world, which enabled him to be much more than a symbolic bridge between people and God.

His determination and courage has enabled us to believe in the real presence of Christ in our world, as he transformed a frail, aging body into a sacrament of God’s love. SE