VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- "I am on a pilgrimage toward
Home," retired Pope Benedict XVI wrote, capitalizing the Italian word
"casa" or "home."
Almost exactly five years after announcing his intention to
be the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign, Pope Benedict wrote the letter
to a journalist from the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
"I am touched to know how many of the readers of your
newspaper want to know how I am experiencing this last period of my life,"
the 90-year-old retired pope wrote. "In that regard, I can only say that,
with the slow diminishing of my physical strength, inwardly I am on a
pilgrimage toward Home."
"It is a great grace in this last, sometimes tiring
stage of my journey, to be surrounded by a love and kindness that I never could
have imagined," said the letter, written on stationery with the heading
"Benedictus XVI, Papa emeritus."
Massimo Franco, the journalist, said the letter, dated Feb.
5, was hand-delivered; the newspaper posted it online Feb. 6 and published it
on the front page of the print edition Feb. 7.
During a meeting with cardinals Feb. 11, 2013, Pope Benedict
stunned the cardinals and the world by saying, in Latin, "After having
repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that
my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise
of the Petrine ministry."
He set the date for his retirement as Feb. 28, 2013. And,
seen off by dozens of weeping Vatican employees, he flew by helicopter to the
papal villa at Castel Gandolfo where he remained until after Pope Francis was
The day before he left was a Wednesday and the overflowing
crowd in St. Peter's Square made it clear that it was anything but a normal
Wednesday general audience.
He told an estimated 150,000 people that his pontificate,
which had lasted almost eight years, was a time of "joy and light, but
also difficult moments."
"The Lord has given us so many days of sun and light
breeze, days in which the catch of fish has been abundant," he said, likening
himself to St. Peter on the Sea of Galilee.
"There have also been moments in which the waters were
turbulent and the wind contrary, as throughout the history of the church, and
the Lord seemed to be asleep," he said. "But I have always known that
the Lord is in that boat and that the boat of the church is not mine, it is not
ours, but it is his and he does not let it sink."
A monastery in the Vatican Gardens was remodeled for Pope
Benedict, and that is where he has lived for five years, reading, praying,
listening to music and welcoming visitors.
Until 2016 the retired pope occasionally would join Pope
Francis at important public liturgies, including the Mass for the canonization
of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II in 2014 and for the opening of the 2015-2016 Year of Mercy.
Pope Benedict also attended the ceremonies for the creation
of new cardinals in 2014 and 2015. But as it became more and more difficult for
Pope Benedict to walk, Pope Francis and the new cardinals would get in vans and
drive the short distance to the Mater Ecclesiae monastery to pay their
The retired pope's letter to Corriere della Sera echoed
remarks he had made the afternoon of his retirement when he arrived in Castel
Gandolfo and greeted crowds there before the very dramatic, globally televised
scene of Swiss Guards closing the massive doors to the villa and hanging up
"I am a simple pilgrim who begins the last stage of his
pilgrimage on this earth," he told the people. "But with all my
heart, with all my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, with all my
interior strength, I still want to work for the common good and the good of the
church and humanity."
In "Last Testament," a book-length interview with
journalist Peter Seewald published in 2016, Pope Benedict insisted he was not
pressured by anyone or any particular event to resign, and he did not feel he
was running away from any problem. However, he acknowledged "practical
governance was not my forte, and this certainly was a weakness."
Insisting "my hour had passed and I had given all I
could," Pope Benedict said he never regretted resigning, but he did regret
hurting friends and faithful who were "really distressed and felt
forsaken" by his stepping down.