It’s no big secret that many of the letters, speeches and messages that bear the pope’s signature are drafted or entirely written by anonymous Vatican officials.
When I lived in Rome and read every single word Pope John Paul II “wrote” on a daily basis, I gradually became able to detect with a certain degree of confidence which sections of texts were written by the pope’s own hand. Sometimes what tipped me off was the tone, sometimes it was the content, sometimes he introduced a personal anecdote or reflection.
I haven’t developed the same sensitivity with Pope Benedict XVI’s writings, but even the most casual Vatican-watchers would have been able to tell that he took an unusually active interest in his recent message to Catholic young people around the globe to prepare for World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid.
The 4,000-word message is worth reading in its entirety (and can be found in English on the Vatican’s website). Here are a couple of samples:
- On his youth in Nazi Germany: “We wanted something great, something new. We wanted to discover life itself, in all its grandeur and beauty. Naturally, part of that was due to the times we lived in. During the Nazi dictatorship and the war, we were, so to speak, ‘hemmed in’ by the dominant power structure. So we wanted to break out into the open, to experience the whole range of human possibilities. I think that, to some extent, this urge to break out of the ordinary is present in every generation. Part of being young is desiring something beyond everyday life and a secure job, a yearning for something really truly greater. Is this simply an empty dream that fades away as we become older? No! Men and women were created for something great, for infinity. Nothing else will ever be enough.”
- On his vocational discernment: “I had to ask myself: Is this really the path I was meant to take? Is this really God’s will for me? Will I be able to remain faithful to him and completely at his service? A decision like this demands a certain struggle. It cannot be otherwise. But then came the certainty: This is the right thing! Yes, the Lord wants me, and he will give me strength. If I listen to him and walk with him, I become truly myself. What counts is not the fulfilment of my desires, but of his will. In this way life becomes authentic.”
- On the genesis of “Jesus of Nazareth”: “There are so many images of Jesus in circulation which, while claiming to be scientific, detract from his greatness and the uniqueness of his person. That is why, after many years of study and reflection, I thought of sharing something of my own personal encounter with Jesus by writing a book. It was a way to help others see, hear and touch the Lord in whom God came to us in order to make himself known. ... We too can have tangible contact with Jesus and put our hand, so to speak, upon the signs of his Passion, the signs of his love. It is in the sacraments that he draws particularly near to us.”