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Vatican City, Feb 28, 2015 / 10:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Two years after his historic resignation from the papacy, Benedict XVI's presence continues to be felt by those around him as he keeps his promise to remain in quiet and prayerful service to the Church and the world.

“We always know that Pope Emeritus Benedict is present in the Vatican, with his prayers,” said Fr. Scott Borgman, English-language official for the Pontifical Accademy for Life. This presence, he told CNA in a Feb. 10 email interview, “is a very reassuring affection which we experience often.”

At 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, 2013, Benedict XVI stepped down from the papal throne, less than three weeks after announcing his resignation to the world. 

Earlier that evening, the former pontiff stood from the balcony of Castel Gandolfo's papal residence, overlooking the thousands who had filled the lake town's small main square. 

"I wish still with my heart, my love, my prayer, my reflection, with all my inner strength, to work for the common good and the good of the Church and of humanity," Benedict told the crowds in off-the-cuff remarks just hours before his resignation would take effect.

Looking peaceful and happy standing a few stories above the square, Benedict XVI assured the world that, in stepping down, he would "simply be a pilgrim” who was “beginning the last part of his pilgrimage on earth." 

For the next two weeks, the See of Peter remained vacant until the election of Pope Francis on March 13, 2013.

In the two years following his resignation, Benedict’s days have been filled with prayer and study, largely out of the public view. He now goes by the simple title “Father Benedict.”

Upon first hearing of Benedict XVI's impending retirement, the first of its kind in centuries, Fr. Borgman explained he was  at once surprised and relieved: “Surprised because no one had seen this for 600 years,” he said, and “relieved because, finally, after years of intense labor, he would be able to rest and serve the Church in another very important way through his prayers.”

“He immediately became a kind of benevolent grandfather figure,” Fr. Borgman said. “We all have that image of the slight, humble pontiff with the piercing blue eyes and that saintly smile.” 

Throughout his papacy, the Vatican official said, Benedict XVI “infused the Church with life through his humility and service,” from his support for “victims of abuse to his many journeys and diplomatic relations,” as well as his “love for the poor and respect for the deposit of the Faith.”

Over the course of his eight-year pontificate, Benedict XVI was often subjected to negative, inaccurate, and editorially selective depictions in the secular press, such as in the areas clerical sex abuse and gay marriage. 

“We suffered alongside him with the misrepresentations which were so common in the popular media,” the Vatican official said.  

Despite these depictions in the press, however, “history will tell how amazing his contribution has been and will continue to be for those who read his writings,” he said.

Fr. Borgman recalled his impression of having personally met Benedict XVI, twice during his pontificate, and  once – accidentally – last September. “I was quite overcome by affection and gratefulness to God for the gift of this great man to the Church,” he recalled.

Benedict XVI also served as an important role model for priests, who “benefited greatly from his theology and his teaching on the lives of the Saints,” Fr. Borgman said. “He was extremely paternal for us priests and represents the Supreme Pontiff in a very clear way, but also a personal Father figure.”

“As a convert, I am always impressed by the wisdom of God in giving us an earthly Father who unites us and guides us according to what Jesus intended when he founded the Church!”

Vatican City, Feb 28, 2015 / 06:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- An upcoming presentation of a Vatican-sponsored Pan-Amazonia Network may shed light on how a possible curial office for human ecology would work, if curial reform is shaped as it was presented at the Feb. 12 consistory.

The Ecclesial Network of the Pan-Amazonia was established Sep. 9-12 in Brazil with the aim of fostering a new approach to climate, and will be presented in the Vatican March 2.

The network involves the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Caritas Pan-Amazonia, the Department of Social Justice of the Latin American Bishops Conferences, the Bishops Commission for Amazonia, as well as several other realities committed to the preservation of the Amazon rainforest.

While the network was born with a regional purpose, its aim is in fact global, and so observers from Europe, Asia, and Africa have been called to take part in the network.

A source who works in the Vatican explained to CNA Feb. 27 that “real innovation is that the network wants to involve more developed countries not in order to provide funds – as has been done before – but in order to pursue a real collaboration, and to make the developed countries more aware of the issue of climate change.”

It is in the end “a global call for global responsibility,” and the network is an example of “how the Church works,” the source maintained.

This kind of approach will likely be fostered in a new department for Human Ecology that should be established within the Vatican ranks.

During the Feb. 12-13 consistory, Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano, coordinator of the Council of Cardinals, outlined a possible curial reform through the establishment of two super-congregations: Charity, Justice and Peace; and Laity, Family and Life.

At least six pontifical councils would merge in the two super-congregations, and each of them would be composed of five secretariats. One of the secretariats within the Congregation for Charity, Justice and Peace may be that for “Human Ecology.”

The director of the Holy See press office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, stressed in a media briefing Feb. 13 that human ecology deals with the idea that social and political environments can be deadly for the human person and for human dignity.

The phrase 'human ecology' was coined by Benedict XVI, but the notion has been pivotal in the last 50 years of the Church's social teaching.

Bl. Paul VI, in his 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio, linked heavy consumption to injustice, declaring that “no one may appropriate surplus goods solely for his own private use when others lacks the bare necessities of life… The earth belongs to everyone, not the rich”.

St. John Paul II added a spiritual dimension in his encyclical Centesimus Annus, criticizing “a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards having rather than being”, and urged people to “create life-styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which we may use responsibly to satisfy our legitimate needs, material or otherwise, while respecting the intrinsic balance of the creation.”

Benedict took over this approach, and indissolubly linked care for the creation to care for the human being, so much that the theme of his 2010 World Day of Peace was “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.”

According to a source that has advised in the drafting of Pope Francis’ encyclical on ecology, this approach has been also taken over the encyclical, and Pope Francis “was very happy with that.”

Pope Francis has said he intends to finalize his encyclical on ecology in March.

During an in-flight press conference in January, Pope Francis indicated the encyclical's first draft had been prepared by Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The Pope then worked on it, and it was sent to theologians, the Secretariat of State, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The encyclical will likely provide a background to the new department for human ecology, while its actions and goals may be shaped on the model of the Pan-Amazonia Network that will be presented in the Vatican next week.

Vatican City, Feb 27, 2015 / 04:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- While Pope Francis has altered the custom of his predecessors by leaving the Vatican for his yearly Lenten retreat, one priest tells CNA the pontiff is merely being true to his Jesuit roots.

“This is what Jesuits do,” said Fr. Joseph Carola, S.J.,  theology professor at Rome's Gregorian University in a Feb. 26 interview.

“That’s very Jesuit of the Holy Father to choose to go somewhere else, somewhere where he doesn’t live normally, to make the exercises. It’s very much in keeping with our own tradition.”

The practice of going to a private location for retreat, away “from all friends and acquaintances, and from all worldly cares,” is  “a very important thing for Jesuits,” he said.
 
“The retreatant usually goes away to a secluded place and spends these days in silence and in prayer, praying often five hours a day, with the meditations of the exercises themselves.”

Pope Francis and members of the Curia have just concluded a five-day spiritual exercises retreat at the Casa Divin Maestro in Ariccia, a city located some 16 miles outside of Rome.

This year's retreat, which ran from Feb. 22-27, was led by Carmalite priest, Father Bruno Secondin, on the theme: “Servants and prophets of the living God,” according to the Jan. 30 announcement in L'Osservatore Romano. Fr. Secondin was recently appointed consultor to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life.

“We typically don’t make our retreat in our own homes,” Fr. Carola said. Reading from a leather-bound copy of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius with the Jesuit insignia embossed on the cover, he continued saying the retreatant “can leave the house in which he dwelt and choose another house or room in order to live there in as greatest privacy as possible.”

The Casa Divin Maestro is an ideal location for this sort of retreat, he said. Located on Lake Albano, a short way from the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, it is “a very beautiful place.”

“It’s there that he can be separated from all the mundane concerns that he has to deal with regularly, and all of the appointments and everything else that might distract him, and enter into greater solitude,” Fr. Carola said. “There the soul can be more intimately united with our Lord in prayer.”

Managed by the Pauline community, the house is “extremely clean, kept very warm during the winter, and has beautiful gardens, a rosary walk, a Via Crucis,” with “a commanding view of the lake,” he said.

This is the second consecutive year the Pope and Curial members have held their Lenten retreat at the house in Ariccia. While the practice of the pontiff going on retreat with the heads of Vatican dicasteries each Lent began some 80 years ago under the pontificate of Paul XI, it was customary for them to follow the spiritual exercises on Vatican ground. Beginning Lent 2014, Pope Francis chose to hold the retreat outside of Rome, true to his Jesuitical background.

“It’s important to pray together with the people with whom you work,” Fr. Carola said, remarking on the Pope's practice of going on retreat alongside Curial heads. “The Holy Father wants to take his closest collaborators with him to be united in prayer before the Lord.”

Aside from holding the retreat outside of Rome rather than in the Vatican, however, Fr. Carola stresses that there is nothing new about this week. “John Paul II, Benedict XVI, they would invite a retreat master in, and he would preach in the Redemptoris Mater chapel in the papal palace,” he said.

“It’s a very important time to be united in prayer, not simply to be working all the time together, but to pray together so as to grow closer in the Lord and hopefully, through the graces received, to be able to serve the Church that much better.”

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