I can still remember exactly where I was when Benedict XVI was elected pope. After visiting the National Basilica on an elementary school field trip, my group and I head over to the Franciscan monastery in Washington DC. The friars give us a tour, and eventually we make our way into their beautiful gardens. Surrounded by vibrant flowers and religious statues, I am startled as the serene quiet is broken by the joyful ringing of bells. Several friars run outside with the joyous news. We have a pope. I do not know whom the friars speak of as they talk to each other of Joseph Ratzinger. But I do know that the strangely empty days since Pope John Paul II’s death are at a close. I am incredibly excited. As soon as I get home, my little brothers and I rush to watch the new announcements. We sit there, absolutely transfixed, as a figure clad in white steps out onto the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square. We are young, but we know that we have witnessed a vital moment for our Church.
I have grown up in Catholicism during the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI. The man who appeared on that balcony eight years ago has been a steady factor in my journey as a Catholic. Pope Benedict has been the epitome of humility, intelligence, and quiet strength. I know even non-Catholics who have visited Rome and attended papal audiences and been bowled over by the Holy Father’s love, gentleness, and humility. Pope Benedict has been notable for his continued insistence on faithfulness to church doctrine and to orthodox teaching of the catechism. Though this has made him unpopular in some circles, he has carried out this necessary task with great compassion and zeal.
As a young Catholic, I appreciate this. I want the real thing. My fellow Catholic youth and I are prepared to live out genuine, unapologetic Catholicism, however difficult that may be. I love the Holy Father for his uncompromising stance on faith and morals. He has stood strong even when battered by society and the media. Particularly notable are his efforts to improve the knowledge of Church teachings among youth. In 2011 he wrote the introduction for the youth catechism, in which he expressed his confidence in the youth of the Church.
He remarks, “The youth of today are not as superficial as some think.” Later he reminds us how important it is to really know what the Church teaches. He writes, “You need to know what you believe . . . yes, you need to be more deeply rooted in the faith than the generation of your parents so that you can engage the challenges and temptations of this time with strength and determination.”
His stance against the moral relativism so prevalent in today’s culture is also worthy of applause. In a homily he delivered in 2005, he said that, “under the semblance of freedom, [relativism] becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own ego.” Throughout his papacy, he has continued to defend the Catholic teaching on this and other matters concerning Catholics today, such as contraception, abortion, and same-sex “marriage”. Through these admirable efforts, he has inspired young Catholics throughout the world. The media only covers the young Catholics who are pressing for the ordination of women and the acceptance of married priests. In reality, there is a strong and vibrant generation of young people who are throwing off the shackles of relativism, progressivism, and feminism, and who want to preserve the traditions and teachings of the Church. This is the Benedict XVI generation. We are committed to the renewal of faithfulness among the laity. Pope Benedict’s presence as the shepherd of the Church during the past eight years has made me who I am today, as a Catholic and as a person.
It goes without saying: Pope Benedict’s resignation was a shock to me. When I checked my email that morning and found a news alert in my inbox, I could do nothing but stare dazedly at the screen. I have come to love and admire the man whom I first saw on the television screen so many years ago. Through the years, I’ve read his writings, listened to him on the radio, and defended him against secular criticism. I watched with tears in my eyes as his helicopter flew over Rome to the Castel Gandolfo on his last day as Supreme Pontiff. But I am so very inspired by the great humility of this unprecedented act. This time around, the papal election is similar in some ways, but in so many others it is completely different. I am much more knowledgeable about my faith and about the process of electing a pope. After Pope Benedict’s announcement, I immersed myself in learning about the papacy, the Vatican, the cardinals, and anything related to the election.. Also, I am able to feel the excitement, and perhaps even apprehension, of this historical moment without being grieved by the death of a pope. I look forward to meeting the changes that the Church will face in the next few weeks. I will support wholeheartedly with my prayers whomever the cardinals, guided by the Holy Spirit, elect. But I am, and will always be, the Benedict XVI generation.