Another great letter from seminarian Joseph Previtali, who is currently studying in Rome:
Dear Friends in Christ,
Yesterday, I was once again blessed to be able to attend a papal event - this time, the Beginning of the Petrine Ministry of Pope Benedict XVI. It was an amazing day, on which the joyful news that Joseph Ratzinger is the Supreme Pontiff began to seem like more than just a really awesome dream!
It was so amazing to see Pope Benedict XVI in action for the first time! He is a natural as pope. We all knew that this intellectual of extremely high voltage would provide us with much depth in his teaching and preaching, but his charisma and comfort with the crowd was not a little surprising. He has been described as a quiet and reserved person - which he is - but he has shown that he can rise to the occasion when his new Petrine vocation calls him to be the center of the Church's, or the world's, attention.
His dignity of presence was apparent from the beginning, as he incensed the soon-to-be-his shepherd's pallium and fisherman's ring during the opening rite at the confessio underneath the main altar of St. Peter's Basilica. As the procession moved from the inside of the Basilica towards the door and out into the open air for the beginning of Mass, the jumbo-trons in St. Peter's Square depicted a very calm and solemn Benedict XVI. One could sense that he was very focused and prepared as he began his installation Mass. This dignity of presence, every step being measured and deliberate, speaks much of his own reverence and awe before the Office of Peter and the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy.
As he came out, he waved to the crowd and blessed us. He then continued in the procession and reverenced the altar. Right after kissing the altar, he stood there, surveyed his flock, and raised his hands in triumphant joy and humble thanksgiving. This unusually-timed acknowledgement of the crowd's applause drew an even greater roar of approval from the 300,000-plus present. He again gave us his blessing. One couldn't helping laughing and clapping with delight at the spontaneous affection of the new Successor of Peter for the Lord's People.
His homily - which I highly recommend that you read - was both powerfully poignant and deeply personal. He spoke first of his need of the prayers of the Communion of Saints. His begged us three times to pray for him, and did so with great emphasis. He truly needs our prayers as he begins his time as the earthly general of the Lord's Army. His consolation is the fact that he does not have to do it alone, but that he has the prayers of the saints to accompany him.
He then gave a mystagogical catechesis on the two symbols of the Petrine Ministry - the pallium and the ring. His explanation was evocative of the Church Fathers' teachings on the role of the Bishop in the life of the Church. He sees himself both as the shepherd of the flock of Christ - after the heart of the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep - and as the fisherman at the sea of the world - catching men from the dark waters and bringing them "into His marvelous light". In this reflection on his office, he interwove very pointed critiques of the modern world and exhortations for the entire Christian faithful to "set out into the deep for a catch" in order to win the world for Christ.
The great crescendo of his address came when he hearkened back to 22 October 1978 - the day on which Pope John Paul II began his Petrine Ministry. Recalling John Paul's exclamation that we "Open wide the doors to Christ!", and "Be not afraid!", Pope Benedict reproposed "with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life" this same call to each member of the human race:
"Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ - and you will find true life."
The faithful received these words of encouragement with great enthusiasm, erupting in tremendous applause. Throughout the entire homily, in fact, there were many interjections by the faithful as they signaled their approval and appreciation of Pope Benedict's fearless proclamation of Jesus Christ.
Showing himself also to be after the heart of the good shepherd of happy memory who preceded him as Bishop of Rome, Benedict took a lap around St. Peter's Square in the popemobile (without the bulletproof glass). I was no less than five feet away from him when he passed. It was a surreal moment looking up at him in all his noble dignity against the clear blue Roman sky, with Bernini's colonnade providing a fitting backdrop. He looked very happy as he passed the faithful and received their praise and applause. I think he realized during that ride through the crowd that we will indeed pray for him every day. This must have brought him so much encouragement and peace. He was very free with and seemed very happy to give the Apostolic Blessing, which, of course, we were all very happy to receive.
Pope Benedict XVI wowed us yesterday morning at St. Peter's. There's no other way to say it. He rose to the occasion and beyond, as he inaugurated his promising pontificate. I went home filled with the joy that comes from the ecclesial experience of Jesus Christ - a mixture of divine love and human warmth. As Benedict proclaimed loud and clear to the world yesterday, "The Church is alive!"
Viva il Papa! Ad multos annos vivat!
Your brother in Christ,