Welcome to GenerationBenedict

Pope Benedict has been responsible for the conversion, reversion, vocation and the deepening of faith of many young Catholics. At the time of his visit to the UK, many Catholics were luke-warm, even living their lives completely at odds to the Church. During this visit, and also World Youth Days in Sydney and Madrid, he has connected with them through his eloquence, his love and genuine concern. Who is God calling you to be?

Pope Benedict will be truly missed by our generation. Those who have met him look upon him fondly as a gentle grandfatherly figure, as he has pointed us towards Christ, at a point in time when many of us were at a crossroads, telling us not to settle for second best, but to strive for sainthood.

Over the next 40 days of Lent, 40 young people from Generation Benedict will each be sharing how he has touched their hearts and changed their lives.

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Easter Sunday

Te Deum

The Te Deum is a traditional prayer of joy and thanksgiving.

Resurrection by Raffaelino del Garbo

Resurrection by Raffaelino del Garbo

O God, we praise Thee, and acknowledge Thee to be the supreme Lord.
Everlasting Father, all the earth worships Thee.
All the Angels, the heavens and all angelic powers,
All the Cherubim and Seraphim, continuously cry to Thee:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts!
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of Thy glory.
The glorious choir of the Apostles,
The wonderful company of Prophets,
The white-robed army of Martyrs, praise Thee.
Holy Church throughout the world acknowledges Thee:
The Father of infinite Majesty;
Thy adorable, true and only Son;
Also the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.
O Christ, Thou art the King of glory!
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When Thou tookest it upon Thyself to deliver man,
Thou didst not disdain the Virgin’s womb.
Having overcome the sting of death, Thou opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all
Thou sitest at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father.
We believe that Thou willst come to be our Judge.
We, therefore, beg Thee to help Thy servants whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy
Precious Blood.
Let them be numbered with Thy Saints in everlasting glory.

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Day 40: Generation Benedict, Looking Forward

Collette is a Law student from Birmingham.  She helps lead 2nd Friday, an informal movement for young adults which focuses on discipleship and evangelisation. With Lisette Carr, she is co-editrix of the GenerationBenedict blog.

St Therese of Lisieux

St Therese of Lisieux

I had no idea what would become of the #generationbenedict blog when I sent a message to Lise on the eve of Ash Wednesday about this idea I had.  I just thought this could be a great way to remember our beloved Pope Benedict.  I take very seriously the challenge of Pope Emeritus Benedict to take responsibility for evangelising the digital continent. Imagine what the likes of St Therese of Lisieux and St Francis Xavier could have done with social media? Older generations were very quick to speak on behalf of my generation in the media after the abdication of Pope Benedict and this didn’t sit right with me.  The stories these older Catholics told, had no resonance with the Pope Benedict I had come to know and love.  Our stories needed to be told, in our own words and on a platform which Pope Benedict described us as having a natural affinity for.

I don’t want to say too much here and simply put, this blog has blown away all expectations.  The number of hits and the media coverage has been phenomenal, totally unexpected.  For this all glory must be given the Lord who has fuelled our passion and love for His radiant bride the Church and for Peter’s successor.
The testimonies and response of the young people involved has humbled and amazed me.  Every time another blog post came my way, I felt as though I was in possession of a precious jewel as I read of how the Lord had moved in a person’s life through his humble worker: Pope Benedict.  With each new testimony I thought surely they don’t get better than this?? Then the next one appeared and my heart was moved once more.  Each testimony speaks of a generation striving for greatness, looking for clear leadership, seeking Truth and in need of a gentle helping hand to become the saints of the 21st Century.  One question that has been posed to me has been “what does an 80 something year old man have in common with your generation?”  This is a fair question and this blog answers that question, age is irrelevant this is a living example of heart speaks unto heart.   The Church and her pastors in knowing Christ is ever new, ever young.  Truth doesn’t age. The noble ideals of young people do not change. The bonds of our baptism run deep, much deeper than the modern world can comprehend- this is reflected in the deep familial love and respect shown to Pope Benedict by my generation.
Once these testimonies had been published, giving the feedback to our young contributors was a special moment for me.  Letting a person know that their post had X amount of hits, had been picked up by this blog or covered here was really beautiful. There was surprise and shock as these young people realised how many people had read and shared their stories, that people we actually bothered about what they had to say about their faith.  I hope all those who have contributed are encouraged and continue to be inspired by this.
The world needs the witness of your faith, it surely needs God.

Pope Benedict, World Youth Day Madrid

Pope Emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis 2It was with great distress that I watched the video of Pope Francis meeting with Pope Emeritus Benedict.  His frailty and weakness was painful to behold, it helped me make more sense of his decision to abdicate.  If there is a reason he came back to the faith or why I lapped up so much of his teaching it is because in Pope Benedict I could say with confidence “Here is a man who knows the Lord”.  As I reflect on my personal apostolate now, I pray for the courage to follow his example to give my whole life to the service of the gospel, in humble obedience and confident trust right to the very end.
I’m looking forward to the pontificate of Pope Francis, it is fresh wind in our sails and I’m following it with an open and faithful heart.  It is important to look at the two pontificates together.  Pope Benedict taught us that our faith is reasonable, he gave us the great gift of the YouCat and challenged us to know what we believe, he restored a sense of wonder, awe and reverence in the way in which we celebrate the Sacraments opening up a stunning chest of beautiful treasure previously hidden from my generation, he encouraged us to build our lives upon the rock that is Christ and to find our home in the Church.  I know there has been much opinion over Pope Francis, the media are doing a very good job of using him as stick to beat Pope Benedict with.  We as young Catholics must not get caught up in these silly debates.  There is a whole world dying for love of Christ, it is falling apart before our very eyes and we cannot afford to spend time debating what colour shoes the Pope wears or whose feet he washes and comparing it with times gone by.  Pope Benedict wouldn’t want this and it is no good for the Church. 
We have been privileged to be formed by an incredible Pope in Benedict and we disregard none of this as we whole-heartedly embrace Pope Francis.  Let us continue the good work which the Lord has begun in us through Pope Benedict and may it find it’s fullness through his new instrument: Francis.
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Day 39: Good Friday

The address by Pope Benedict XVI after the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, 22/04/11

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This evening, in faith, we have accompanied Jesus as he takes the final steps of his earthly journey, the most painful steps, the steps that lead to Calvary. We have heard the cries of the crowd, the words of condemnation, the insults of the soldiers, the lamentation of the Virgin Mary and of the women. Now we are immersed in the silence of this night, in the silence of the cross, the silence of death. It is a silence pregnant with the burden of pain borne by a man rejected, oppressed, downtrodden, the burden of sin that mars his face, the burden of evil. Tonight we have relived, deep within our hearts, the drama of Jesus, weighed down by pain, by evil, by human sin.

What remains now before our eyes? It is a crucified man, a cross raised on Golgotha, a cross which seems a sign of the final defeat of the One who brought light to those immersed in darkness, the One who spoke of the power of forgiveness and of mercy, the One who asked us to believe in God’s infinite love for each human person. Despised and rejected by men, there stands before us “a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity, one from whom others hide their faces” (Is 53:3).

crucifixion-of-jesus-247x300But let us look more closely at that man crucified between earth and heaven. Let us contemplate him more intently, and we will realize that the cross is not the banner of the victory of death, sin and evil, but rather the luminous sign of love, of God’s immense love, of something that we could never have asked, imagined or expected: God bent down over us, he lowered himself, even to the darkest corner of our lives, in order to stretch out his hand and draw us to himself, to bring us all the way to himself. The cross speaks to us of the supreme love of God and invites, today, to renew our faith in the power of that love, and to believe that in every situation of our lives, our history and our world, God is able to vanquish death, sin and evil, and to give us new, risen life. In the Son of God’s death on the cross, we find the seed of new hope for life, like the seed which dies within the earth.

This night full of silence, full of hope, echoes God’s call to us as found in the words of Saint Augustine: “Have faith! You will come to me and you will taste the good things of my table, even as I did not disdain to taste the evil things of your table… I have promised you my own life. As a pledge of this, I have given you my death, as if to say: Look! I am inviting you to share in my life. It is a life where no one dies, a life which is truly blessed, which offers an incorruptible food, the food which refreshes and never fails. The goal to which I invite you … is friendship with the Father and the Holy Spirit, it is the eternal supper, it is communion with me … It is a share in my own life (cf. Sermon 231, 5).

Let us gaze on the crucified Jesus, and let us ask in prayer: Enlighten our hearts, Lord, that we may follow you along the way of the cross. Put to death in us the “old man” bound by selfishness, evil and sin. Make us “new men”, men and women of holiness, transformed and enlivened by your love.

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Day 38: Letters from Prison

This post is taken from the Vatican Radio website.


Los Angeles County has one of the highest youth incarceration rates in the country. Up to 90% of the county’s juvenile justice youth are Latino or African American, and up to 70% of incarcerated youth nationally are said to have some kind of disability.

After witnessing the tragic lives of so many young people facing life without parole in a juvenile justice system where little rehabilitation takes place and with frighteningly high recidivism rates that continue into adulthood, Jesuit Father Mike Kennedy decided to set up the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative (JRJI) to provide support and hope to juveniles with life sentences.

Through the Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a series of meditative prayers helping people find God in their everyday experiences, the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative provides tools that allow prisoners to find healing and forgiveness and to recognize their lives have meaning and purpose.

Pope Francis washing the feet of young offenders today in Rome

Pope Francis washing the feet of young offenders today in Rome

When the young boys at the juvenile detention facility in LA heard of Pope Francis’ wish to celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at Rome’s Casal del Marmo prison with the young inmates there, many of them expressed their desire to participate from afar and in close solidarity to what the Pope was going to do in another juvenile hall.

To do this they have written letters to Pope Francis, thanking him for his gesture of love and service, praying for him – as he has asked all of us to do, describing the sadness of their lives in detention, and asking for prayers to help them endure the darkness and hopelessness of their situations… As father Kennedy points out, some of these youngsters will spend the rest of their lives in prison.

We welcome their voices and publish the letters that will be read at a service Thursday evening with the Director of Novices and 11 Jesuit novices, each one washing the feet of an inmate at the juvenile hall where kids are sentenced as adults.

Dear Pope Francis,
Thank you for washing the feet of youth like us in Italy.
We also are young and made mistakes.
Society has given up on us, thank you
that you have not given up on us.

Dear Pope Francis,
I think you are a humble man.
When you read this letter you will have washed the feet of other kids like.
I am writing this letter because you give me hope.
I know one day with people like you us kids
won’t be given sentences that will keep us in prison
for the rest of our lives.
I pray for you. Dont forget us.

Dear Pope Francis,
I don’t know if you have ever been to where I live.
I have grown up in a jungle of gangs and drugs and violence.
I have seen people killed. I have been hurt.
We have been victims of violence.
It is hard to be young and surrounded by darkness.
Pray for me that one day I will be free
and be able to help other youth like you do.

Dear Pope Francis,
Tonight we pray for all victims of violence.
The families of people we have hurt need healing.
Our families need healing.
We are all in pain.
Let us feel Jesus’ healing tonight.

Dear Pope Francis,
I know the same youth feet that you wash
are like me.
Drugs have been part of me life for so long.
We all struggle to be sober.
But you inspire me and I promise to be sober
and help others with the cruel addiction of crystal meth.

Dear Pope Francis,
My many friends are in two different maximum security
prisons in one of our states 33 state prisons.Calif. I am writing to tell you that I feel bad
that more youth of color are in prison in our state
than any other place in the world. I am inviting you to come
here next year to wash our feet, many of who have been sentences to die in prison.
God bless you.

Dear Pope Francis,
I read that the harshest sentence that a youth
can receive in Italy is 20 years. I wish this was true here.
I hope I hear back from you. I have been catholic and glad I am catholic
because I have a pope like you.
I will pray for you every day because we need examples of God like you are
in this violent world.

Dear Pope Francis,
I am glad you picked the name Francis. When I was little I read about St.Francis. He is a cool saint. He was a man of peace and simplicity. I am praying to you that you pray that we have peace in our gang filled neighborhoods.

Dear Pope Francis,
When Jesus washed the feet of his friends he gave an example of humility. I have been raised to believe that it is only with respect in hurting your enemy that you are a man. Tonight you and Jesus show me something in this washing of the feet something very different. I hope we kids learn from this.

Dear Pope Francis,
I have never been to Rome. I do not know if it is near Los Angeles
because all my youth I have only known my neighborhood. I hope one
day I will be given a second chance and receive a blessing from you
and maybe even have my feet washed on Holy Thursday.

Dear Pope Francis,
I know you have a good family. I am writing this letter to you because I know
that my family is suffering because of me. I know have done some bad things but I am not a bad kid and when last year in our big state we not a new law called SB9 this made me family happy because this is a beautiful message that we kids deserve a second chance.

Dear Pope Francis,
From reading I know that us kids are capable of making decisions like older people do. I have seen pictures of brains of kids and adults. I am asking you as Pope to help us and
help other people understand we can change and want to change.


Day 37: Generation Benedict, Looking Back

Lisette Carr is a French teacher, youth worker living in Dublin. She is currently studying for an MA in Marriage and Family at Maryvale Institute. She writes a blog about good things happening in the Catholic world at www.catholicismrocks.wordpress.com. With Collette, she is co-editrix of the GenerationBenedict blog.


On Shrove Tuesday, Collette and I had the idea for this blog. I remembered the ‘joyful noise’ that was made on social media about the Pope’s 2010 visit to the UK. I hoped that the GenerationBenedict blog would make more ‘joyful noise’ for Benedict, especially at a time when the media spotlight was on the Catholic Church.

In his 2009 World Communications Day message, Pope Benedict said;

It falls, in particular, to young people, who have an almost spontaneous affinity for the new means of communication, to take on the responsibility for the evangelization of this “digital continent”.

The GenerationBenedict blog has been a platform for young Catholics to share their witness. They have written about how Benedict inspired them and pointed them to Jesus Christ. When I have been talking about the blog, ‘inspirational’ is a word that, even though I have used it carefully, I have used it a lot, to describe the reflections from our contributors. In our culture of aggressive secularism and increasing hostility to religion, our contributors have bravely stood up and shared a part of their faith journey with the world. This can be quite daunting. I remember on Ash Wednesday, hovering over the ‘publish’ button as I published the first reflection, my own.

Through the gift of our Baptism, we become lights of the world. In his last World Youth Day message, Benedict acknowledges it can be a challenge to bear witness to our faith;

I imagine that you have at times found it difficult to invite your contemporaries to an experience of faith…

He tells young people that their witness will itself be a way in which God can touch the hearts of others. Over these weeks of Lent, our contributors have touched hearts by courageously sharing glimpses of their faith journeys with the world.


Jennifer Baugh, who founded Young Catholic Professionals

Jennifer Baugh, who founded Young Catholic Professionals

Michaela, a student in Birmingham, wrote about the counter-cultural challenge of living the Faith at university. Jenn, from Texas, responded to Benedict’s call to follow Christ by founding the ministry, Young Catholic Professionals. Majella, from Limerick, shared how Pope Benedict has inspired her to reach out to non-believers and people of other faiths.

Ben and Sarah honestly shared their struggle with infertility, and how Church teaching, and in particular Benedict’s articulation of this, gave them strength, courage and understanding, strengthening their marriage and deepening their love.

Young seminarians and priests have written about how Benedict gave them the insight to discern and, more importantly, the courage to answer God’s call.

We don’t know what, if any, impact the blog will have on the lives of other people. I hope it will be a lamp, a small island of light and hope on the digital continent. Of course, in all of this, the Holy Spirit blows where He wills, and we probably cannot imagine who will be inspired by these reflections, or how. In March, someone came upon the blog by typing “was pope benedict a aunt Christ?” Maybe that person will have learned that far from being the anti-Christ, Pope Benedict is a humble and inspiring successor of St. Peter, one of the first to recognise who Christ truly was. In case you’re wondering, the Google search result referred to a post by Dominic, whose aunt called him to inform that tickets were available to see Pope Benedict! By this one serendipitous typo, that Googler got to came across Dominic’s inspirational account of his journey back to the Catholic faith.

As this blog draws to a close, I thank God for all our contributors who have bravely shared their stories with us, and I pray that He may continue to guide and inspire them in their different vocations. I say a special prayer for the seminarians who will be ordained this summer. I continue to pray for Pope Emeritus Benedict, as he embarks on the “last leg of his pilgrimage on this earth”. And I pray for his successor, Pope Francis, that he will continue steer the Barque of Peter with strength, courage, hope and love.

Pope Emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis

Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict

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Day 36: Jesus Thou Art All Compassion

MadeleineMadeleine Teahan is Associate Editor of the Catholic Herald.

In June 1969 a man drove through the streets of Bradford. His wife had left him and he was driving to his death. The traffic lights turned red. As he paused and glared at the summer sun, soaking in despair, the music floating through the wide-open windows of the local school enveloped him:

 Love Divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down. Fix in us thy humble dwelling, all thy faithful mercies crown.

 Jesus, thou art all compassion,
pure unbounded love thou art.
Visit us with thy salvation, 
enter every trembling heart.

The following week, the children of St Joseph’s College, Bradford, assembled again and their headmistress read them a letter of thanks she had received that morning. A man, who had paused outside their school the week before during their morning assembly, had written it. He wrote that he would have been dead by now but their voices raised in praise- “Jesus thou art all compassion. Pure unbounded love thou art”- had touched his heart and had saved him from despair.

41 years later, I too sang those uplifting words as I stood in Hyde Park waiting for Pope Benedict. I knew my mother was also standing somewhere among the tens of thousands and I remembered the story she told me as a child, about the desperate man and his letter of gratitude which astonished her and her peers and remained engraved in her memory.

I would always associate that hymn with motherly reassurance and child-like trust in God. But on the brink of turning 23 on that September evening, I had grown more aware than ever that faith was not a mere comfort blanket to numb the hardships of life, always securing a “happy ending.”

Waiting for this “controversial” Pope to appear, his visit so far had reinforced that the face of the wider world was not comprised of innocents with angelic voices. The weary human heart was prone to doubt and trepidation.

But Pope Benedict’s calm courage made him the loving father who encouraged his children simply through his own example. He spoke with a tender honesty that evening in Hyde Park about the realities of living one’s faith: “In our own time, the price to be paid for the fidelity to the Gospel is no longer being hanged, drawn and quartered but it often involves being dismissed out of hand, ridiculed or parodied. And yet, the Church cannot withdraw from the task of proclaiming Christ and his Gospel as saving truth, the source of our ultimate happiness as individuals and as the fountain of a just and humane society.”

With particular attention to the youth of the Church he implored us: “Dear young friends: only Jesus knows what “definite service” he has in mind for you. Be open to his voice resounding in the depths of your heart: even now his heart is speaking to your heart.”

Born into a Church while John Paul II was  its Pope, I was blessed. I was bereft on hearing the news of his death while studying for my A Levels. But Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate provided a sturdy bridge, over tumultuous waters, enabling me to continue my journey of faith into the first stage of adult life. Many of us still feel petrified, pause or give up altogether along the way. But Pope Benedict will remain for many, the Holy Father who emboldened the children of the Church to keep walking while daring to meet the gaze of the passer-by.

We thank God for him.

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Day 35: I saw God’s Love in Pope Benedict’s Eyes

Paschal and the PopePaschal Uche, 23, is studying pharmacy. In September 2010, he addressed the Pope on behalf of the young people in Westminster Piazza.

People often joke about me having a personal friendship with the Pope after having met him some two years ago on his visit to the UK. In fact one priest friend sometimes calls me the only son of the Pope! Although this is not the case, Pope Benedict’s years in office were a real blessing to me and many young people and I believe as young people we also had a special place in his heart and ministry.

Pope Benedict began his dialogue with the youth at World Youth Day, Cologne with the theme “we have come to worship him”. If you have ever been to a World Youth Day you will appreciate that the vibrancy and joy of our coming together is itself a cause for celebration, but this theme was typical of our Holy Father’s attitude, putting Jesus Christ as the focus of his ministry and drawing us to make him the focus of our lives. As the successor of John Paul II, Pope Benedict conveyed a clear desire to connect with the youth. In his words and actions he expressed a deep and sincere happiness in being with us to “confirm our faith and, God willing enliven our hope”.

Pope in StormPersonally, I will always treasure that sunny summer day that turned in to a very wet and rainy night at World Youth Day in Madrid, 2011. As the Pope began to address us the heavens opened and the wind howled aggressively. I remember looking at the big screen and seeing that his notes where being blown away.  But he was resilient and continued to stand united with us in the rain. He then affirmed us saying: “Our faith is greater than the rain.” Later the next day we heard that the bishops had advised Pope Benedict to leave given the adverse weather conditions but his reply was, “how a shepherd can leave his sheep?”.

It would not be unreasonable to say that for Generation Benedict, we will remember how Pope Benedict led us not only in words of wisdom and exemplary deeds but he also led us in prayer. One of the most profound moments of the papal visit to the UK was the intense silence and peace during Eucharistic Adoration in Hyde Park. Some could have said that Adoration with so many people just won’t work but in Faith, the Pope led us in prayer. This brave move was a landmark moment for many- a display to the whole world of what we are really all about and what Benedict was really all about: a people humbled by the humble love of God.


I can’t finish without sharing a little about the brief encounter I was privileged to have with him on the steps of Westminster Cathedral. Thinking that he would be looking in to the crowd, I was moved by his sincerity as, when I addressed him, he looked at me with great fondness and genuine interest. After sharing a hug with him he asked me about myself and my background and, before turning to the young people on the other side, he assured me of his prayers. He was clearly a man saturated in hours of prayer gracious and gentle inside his elderly frame was- and I am sure is still- a lively spirit and passion for life and the God of love. I recall hearing that when Benedict met with some young people in Spain he spent most of the time listening and asking questions. I was taken back so often the most educated and informed feel the need to pass on as much as they can but in this Our Holy Father once again showed his pastoral heart and desire to connect with the lives of young people.

We will be the “Generation Benedict” as the Italians often chanted “the youth of the Pope.” Benedict challenged us to live a life of gift, a life that in his words would not be easy;

Christ did not promise an easy life. Those who desire comforts have dialled the wrong number. Rather, he shows us the way to great things, the good, towards an authentic human life

Address to German pilgrims who had come to Rome for the inauguration ceremony of Pope Benedict, 25/04/2005

Benedict was a gift to us: a Pope who dared us to love, stood with us in the rain, and brought us to our knees time and time again in prayer. Jesus said to Peter, our first Pope: “If you love me feed my sheep.” As a young person of Generation Benedict, I believe we have been shepherded well. In a time of challenges and constant change Pope Benedict has been a voice of God’s liberating and unchanging Truth. For this we are all grateful. May God bless him richly.

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Palm Sunday- Sunday 24th March

Its a day of rest on the Generation Benedict blog.


Why not join the #CaptureEaster initiative? Set up by a a couple of guys Stateside, Edmund and Jonathon, the goal is to take photos during Holy week of where you see beauty and where you see God and post them on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #CaptureEaster.

In the video below, Jonathon reminds us of the words of Pope Francis earlier this week in his meeting with journalists;

The Church exists to communicate precisely this: Truth, Goodness and Beauty in person.

The #CaptureEaster initiative invites us to use social media to attempt to capture Truth, Goodness and Beauty during the forthcoming week.

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Day 34: An Exemplar of Courage, Service and Love

IMG_5331Jim Carr is a pharmacist in Dublin.

When Pope John Paul II came to visit my home town of Drogheda in 1979, the town, like the rest of Ireland, came to a standstill. In that unique moment, our still-young republic was united as never before in celebration and pride. Everyone, it seemed, was going to see the Pope. Everyone except me. On the cusp of my third birthday, it was deemed that my tiny legs were unequal to the 5km hike to the Mass site on the edge of town (or perhaps it was felt that the cacophonous wailings of a turbulent toddler might be construed as a precocious attempt to ‘protest the pope’?!). And so I missed out on the chance to say: ‘I was there’.

Almost exactly thirty-one years later, in September 2010, in different towns, a different country, and an utterly changed world, I finally got the chance to say ‘I was there’ when I saw Pope Benedict in Edinburgh and London. In 2009, I had commenced a PhD in theology addressing the problem of reconciling religious faith with modern democracy and one of the pivotal thinkers in my research was one Joseph Ratzinger. Needless to say, I was a wee bit excited to see one of my heroes in the flesh! But more than this, I was enthralled by the bracing clarity and challenging profundity of his various speeches and homilies, above all his address to civic leaders at Westminster Hall on September 17th. And yet, however inspiring these words were, my abiding memories of the visit are visual: Benedict beaming gently among the children at St. Mary’s, Twickenham; his delighted smile on meeting Paschal Uche on the Piazza at Westminster Cathedral; the elderly Pontiff visiting people his own age at the nursing home in Vauxhall; the lovely warmth in his embrace of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster Abbey. But the stand-out event for me was the prayer vigil in Hyde Park (I can still hear the hauntingly beautiful performance of ‘Lead Kindly Light’ and ‘Adoramus te Domine’!) And the crowning glory of the vigil was the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and the image of the Holy Father knelt in serene prayer. Spine-tingling stuff!

Pope and Newman

One of the reasons that Benedict came to England in 2010 was to show his esteem for John Henry Newman whose beatification at Cofton Park marked the end of the Papal Visit. Newman was a major figure both in the development of modern Catholicism and in the personal theological development of Benedict himself. Indeed, the two men had much in common. Newman’s life spanned almost the entirety of the turbulent nineteenth century; Benedict has lived through the traumas of the twentieth century. Newman’s theology had a profound influence on both Anglicanism and Catholicism. Benedict, very much an heir to Newman’s legacy, helped ensure its full flowering at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and was indefatigable in championing fidelity to that Council over the last fifty years. And just as Newman, after his conversion, suffered, for a time, estrangement from his dear Anglican friends, so Benedict has endured rejection, and at times vilifcation, from friends with whom, at one stage, he worked closely to help renew the Church. Newman is still revered by educationists for the profound and holistic conception of education elaborated in his ‘Idea of a University’. Benedict articulated a similar Christian humanism that offers a beautiful and transformative vision of human flourishing.  At the heart of this vision is education, understood as the humble, patient, pursuit of truth. And like Newman, Benedict, shy in person, firm in debate, was always respectful of those with whom he disagreed.

Maybe Benedict didn’t have the same charisma that John Paul II had. But there are different types of charisma. There are many ways to inspire. Benedict was, and continues to be, an inspiration to me. When I find myself sliding into the indecision of relativism, he reminds me that there is indeed such as thing as Truth and it is found in a personal encounter with Christ. When I find myself becoming satisfied with myself, he rouses me from my complacency and reminds me that we are all called to be saints. And when my spirits are low and I become discouraged, he reminds me that God is Love and He loves me more than I can ever imagine. I miss Benedict and as I pray for Pope Francis in his daunting ministry, I also pray in a special way that God will bless the humble Bavarian whose life of service, courage and love will be remembered with fervent gratitude by many generations to come.

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Day 33: Meeting Benedict on the train to Dublin

Rev Paul MurphyRev. Paul Murphy, 29, is deacon of the Archdiocese of Armagh.  He will be ordained to the priesthood in June.

When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected to the papacy I was an Art History student at Trinity College, Dublin. I had come across the Cardinal’s name in newspaper articles and knew precious little else about him. Contrary to everything that was said at that time about the papacy being “irrelevant”, the name of this quiet, unassuming scholar priest from Bavaria was enunciated by many in the Buttery Bar and Arts block with great authority.

I took the train to university every day and as such had two hours of spare time, usually allocated for sleeping, or day-dreaming while listening to music. In the wake of the election I took a copy of one of the Cardinal’s interviews with Peter Seewald, Salt of the Earth, with me so as to acquaint myself properly with the thought of our new Holy Father. There was also a biography, which I had finished in a week or so and had dutifully reread so as not to have missed anything important. What a life he had led! I could empathise with this young seminarian who preferred study to sport, who had a soft spot for Mozart, who came from a close knit family deeply rooted in its Faith, in its love of Jesus Christ. I found myself defending him in coffee shop debates between lectures.

I began my studies for the priesthood in 2007 in Belfast and from there was sent to Rome to study theology at the Gregorian University. Benedict had made quite an impression on us all by then. We attended his audiences, we read his books, his encyclicals, and in 2011 had the privilege of serving for him at the Chrism Mass in St Peter’s. That will remain one of the most moving experiences of my life because it was from Benedict that we had learned of the timeless power of the Roman Rite. By his example Benedict demonstrated so eloquently that the liturgy is not something we should try to personalise, but rather is to be entered into with awe and humble deference. It is the prayer of our local parishes and also of the Church Universal. The Church spread across the world has its own language to bind us together so that we can pray with one voice.

Benedict taught me that liturgical reform is at the heart of safeguarding the mission and purity of the Church, because the liturgy and our prayerful participation within its order reflects our relationship and rapport with each other, and most importantly, with the Lord. May God grant Pope Benedict the retirement he truly deserves. May the prayers of all the faithful console Pope Francis, and may God give him the strength and stamina necessary to continue his good work.

Oremus pro invicem!

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Day 32: Young, Catholic and Professional

Aug 31 nightJennifer Baugh, from Dallas, Texas, is the Founder and President of Young Catholic Professionals. She is passionate about encouraging a culture of Catholic community in all aspects of our lives, especially in the workplace.

At the age of 24, I had just graduated from a rigorous MBA program and was set to embark on an intense career path as a financial consultant in Dallas.  My new employer had given me quite a bit of time off between grad school and my employment start date.  In fact, I had eight months off before starting my new job. Looking back, I can see God’s hand in it all.

I had grown up in the Catholic Church, but had never fostered a personal relationship with Christ. I had always been a high achiever, and I was often too distracted by papers or projects to question my faith, my relationship with Christ, or my purpose on earth. God knew I would need time off to ask those questions and to open my heart to Christ. For four months, I lived in Dallas with few obligations or distractions.  And in April of 2010, I finally acknowledged my real need for Christ.  Immediately after, I felt overwhelmed by an outpouring of Christ’s Divine Mercy. Because of that mercy, I knew for the first time that I wanted to become an authentic Catholic.

My enthusiasm for learning about our Catholic faith naturally led me to Pope Benedict. When I read his writings, I felt as though he were speaking directly to me. He spoke of our Faith reverently and clearly—in a way that I knew, without question, was the Truth. This simple German was answering the most profound questions of my heart.

Benedict wrote often that the Christian experience is not passive and cannot be experienced alone. At the time, I was meeting a lot of other young people, and I could sense the struggle we all had for something deeper in our lives.  We were all so restless!  Though our culture does not encourage discussion on faith or virtue, I began talking to my peers about Pope Benedict’s writings. I had read Pope Benedict say many times that we can always speak the Truth with Love.  His words gave me confidence that I had never before possessed! Somehow, this humble pope empowered me to share the love of Christ. What surprised me even more was that my peers were interested…


Anticipating the next step in my career, I was very invested in not losing this new-found faith once I began working. I sought out young adult ministries in my community, looking for other Christians to help me stay accountable. Many of these young adults ministries seemed to lack vibrancy. Because of Pope Benedict’s writings, I knew there could be something more – a ministry that wasn’t afraid of sharing the Truth in a way that was loving and inspiring.  As Pope Benedict says;

If you follow His Word, it will light up your path and lead you to high goals that will give joy and full meaning to your lives

25th World Youth Day Message, 28/3/2010

A couple of months before beginning my new job, I started a non-profit organization in response to the challenges offered by Pope Benedict. The name of the ministry is “Young Catholic Professionals.” We seek to encourage young adults working in various professions to Work in Witness for Christ. 150 to 200 young people come together on a monthly basis to listen to executive speakers who provide credible witnesses as we seek to pass on the legacy of faith to our coworkers and families in this secular age.

Today, YCP is working towards national expansion. We rely on Pope Benedict’s writing to inspire our ministry on a daily basis to greater authenticity, zeal, and dependence on Christ. As young professionals struggling against the tide of secularism, we hold tight to Pope Benedict’s words of encouragement: 

My dear young friends, I want to invite you to ‘dare to love.’ Do not desire anything less for your life than a love that is strong and beautiful and that is capable of making the whole of your existence a joyful undertaking of giving yourself as a gift to God and your brothers and sisters, in imitation of the One who vanquished hatred and death forever through love.

22nd World Youth Day Message, 27/1/2007

DSC_0668Without Pope Benedict, Young Catholic Professionals would not exist, and I would not have received the encouragement and education in the Faith that I so desperately needed. Pope Benedict will always be my shepherd – the man who led me to Christ and offered me the depth of our Catholic faith at a time when I was so thirsty.


I hope Pope Benedict may know that his humble service has made a profound impact on my life and the lives of many. I pray for him in thanksgiving every day, and I promise to persevere in faith holding close to my heart all that Pope Benedict has taught me.

May we remember always his challenge: The road stretches before us! And yet, we must not lose trust; instead, with greater vigor we must once more continue our journey together. Christ walks before us and accompanies us. We count on his unfailing presence and humbly and tirelessly implore from him the precious gift of unity and peace.”


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Day 31: A Long Search for Truth

UntitledStuart is currently in his first year of studying for the priesthood at Oscott College, for the Archdiocese of Birmingham


When Pope Benedict XVI was elected in April 2005 I had little idea of who he was or where he would help lead me.  Finishing off my A-Levels, I was intellectually open but unsure as to what I really believed or understood about life.  Friends and I would spend afternoons in the pub not only avoiding Spanish but sometimes touching on those deeper questions. In retrospect, those hours spent pondering the “big things” were more useful and important than chasing exam-marks.  Yet with the best I got out of Sixth Form I had a springboard into a deeper view of life, one poetic but true, impossible with man but glorious with God, a life in which all that was noble in me might flower, that is, a life of Christian conversion.

At University, a fire kindled deep inside me to live such a life.  Soon enough, the Anglican Chaplain asked me whether I had thought of a vocation.  The long road to seminary began there.  In France, working among the poor, my prayer and reflection deepened, leading me to the remarkable Cardinal Ratzinger.  In him, I found someone who made Catholicism intelligible, speaking to those deep desires.  There was no bitterness between faith and reason, prayer was primary and all was held together in “the beauty of holiness”.  My heart and mind began to find a home amid the altars of the Church of God.
This, of course, left me feeling not only respectful but deeply grateful.  Still an Anglican, I prayed and waited for the right moment to convert.  With the announcement of the Ordinariate in late 2009, I felt that time had come.  The man who had led me to knowledge of the truth through his love of the truth now invited people like me, through truth in love, to enter the barque of Peter.  Yet despite Benedict’s intellectual sophistication, I felt he shared that same humble Christian faith which is so attractive and so winning.  Such a faith can see God’s providence in people, places and events.  In my own life, the great testimony to my sharing the faith of Peter and Benedict came with his Visit.  My first Sunday Mass in full communion with the Catholic Church was at Cofton Park for the beatification of John Henry Newman.  On that remarkable day, a seminal moment in my life, a long search in my life for truth and the beauty of holiness came to an end when I was able to offer to God that long search in the Eucharistic Sacrifice with and through the man who, as Pope, is the meeting point between heaven and earth.  Yet the pilgrim’s road never ends.  The road that led me there led me very quickly too to the gates of Oscott College where, once again where the shadow of Peter had fallen, I would feel called to renewed conversion and renunciation in the service of God and His Church. 
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Day 30: Three Things I’ve Learned from Pope Benedict

BrandonBrandon Vogt, 26, is a Catholic writer and speaker who blogs at BrandonVogt.com. He’s also the author of The Church and Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet

As an Evangelical Christian in 2008, “God’s Rottweiler” worried me. From what I heard, he was a cold and stodgy disciplinarian with a hyper-traditionalist streak, more likely to crack a whip than save a soul. But then I became Catholic. I devoured his books and studied his speeches, and I discovered a much different man. He was humble, spiritual, and wise—more Gandalf than Stalin.

In the five years since becoming Catholic, Pope Benedict has taught me several lessons. But three stick out in particular: the priority of encountering Christ, the proper interpretation of the Bible, and the astounding power of the new media.

First, when you study Pope Benedict’s work you’ll quickly notice his evangelical bend. He incessantly reminds us that Christianity is not about a philosophy, a set of doctrines, or a moral list of do’s and don’ts: it’s about a relationship with Christ. Those other things certainly matter but they aren’t central—they aren’t the “one thing necessary” (Luke 10:42).

For instance, in a recent speech to Filipino prelates, Pope Benedict defined their sole mission as to “propose a personal relationship with Christ as the key to complete fulfillment.” Likewise, in the Introduction to his second Jesus of Nazareth book we see the same focus: “I have attempted to develop a way of observing and listening to the Jesus of the Gospels that can indeed lead to a personal encounter.”

Coming from an Evangelical background, which stressed the importance of “knowing Jesus in a personal way,” this vision immediately captured me. I saw it as a bridge to my Evangelical friends, for here was a Pope even they could love. In fact, during a roundtable discussion of the Pope’s Jesus of Nazareth series, a well-known Protestant biblical scholar revealed that he would gladly assign the books for his seminary class. He explained that if the series didn’t say “Pope Benedict” on the cover, his students would probably not know they were reading Catholic books. Now, that’s not to say Pope Benedict softens Catholicism for ecumenical purposes—far from it. Instead, it testifies to the central role he gives to encountering Jesus Christ, a “mere Christianity” to which most Protestants happily agree.

The second thing Pope Benedict has taught me regards the interpretation of Scripture. In his recent exhortation on the Word of God, Verbum Domini, he reiterated the Bible’s proper interpretive home: the Church. Just as I wouldn’t make sense of The Lord of the Rings without consulting Tolkien’s intentions, nor determine the Constitution’s meaning without heeding the Supreme Court, I can’t fully understand Scripture without listening to the Church.

Without proper interpretation, critics suggest Tolkien’s epic was really about racial divide and class warfare. Or that the Constitution really supports abortion and “same-sex marriage.” Or that Scripture really advocates slavery and holy wars. Pope Benedict taught me that the same Spirit who inspired the Bible guides the Church today and therefore we must look confidently to her lead when interpreting the written Word of God.

Church-and-New-Media-large-196x300Finally, the new media. While researching my book on the the Church and technology I read everything Pope Benedict said about new media. And that was a lot. Despite being in his mid-eighties, this Pope keenly grasped the power and potential of new media better than most of his younger contemporaries.

In his annual World Communications Day messages, for example, the Pope called these digital tools “a gift to humanity.” Over the years, he’s covered topics like the dangers of self-promotion, the value of silence, and seeking truth and authenticity in the digital world. His latest message, which I consider his best, is titled “Social Networks: Portals of Truth and Faith, New Spaces for Evangelization.

These tools are especially helpful in reaching non-Catholics: “New horizons are now open that were, until recently, unimaginable…[the new media] stir our wonder at the possibilities.”

With my Facebook profile I can connect with more people than St. Paul, Genghis Khan, Constantine, or Napoleon. With my cell phone I have more evangelical reach than St. Augustine, St. Francis Xavier, or Ven. Fulton Sheen. Pope Benedict agrees and has thus encouraged Catholics to respond to this technology with creativity and ardor.

Pope Benedict has left an indelible mark on my life in the five years I’ve known him. He’s taught me that nothing matters more than knowing and loving Jesus Christ. He’s shown that to understand the Word of God I must view it through the Church’s continuous tradition. And he’s invited me to join an evangelical adventure, riding the barque of a 2,000-year old Church onto the shores of the digital world.

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Day 29: The Professor Pope

Andrew speaking at the U.K. national vocations festival, Invocation

Andrew speaking at the U.K. national vocations festival, Invocation

Dr Andrew O’Connell is Communications Director for the Presentation Brothers in Ireland, where a key part of his work is the promotion of vocations. 

“Oh no!”

It’s rare to find oneself speaking out loud in an empty room. But that’s what I did and those were my words on that April evening in 2005 when Cardinal Estévez announced the name of the new Pope. “Ratzinger,” he rasped.

My disappointment had nothing to do with the theology of the newly elected Pope. Instead I knew that the warm glow of favourable media coverage since the death of John Paul would give way to a more predictable and tedious narrative of criticism based largely on caricature.

Caricature and controversies certainly provided much of the mood music for this pontificate but it would be a great pity if some of the touching and revealing human moments were forgotten. Moments such as when Pope Benedict broke his wrist during his summer vacation in 2009. He presented at a local hospital where he was told his injury would require an X-ray and an operation. Benedict asked the doctors to respect the order of the queue and simply joined the line of patients awaiting treatment.

A helpful key to understanding this man lies in a story from his youth, recounted in his memoir, Milestones. The 18-year-old Joseph Ratzinger arrives home to Traunstein having been released from an American Prisoner of War camp. His arrest weeks before had “cut my good mother’s heart to the quick”. He was anxious to be reunited with her. It was the evening of the Feast of the Sacred Heart and she was in the local church. As he walked past he could hear the praying and singing. He walked home though and waited for her there instead. “I did not want to create a disturbance,” he wrote.

He did not want to create “a disturbance” as Pope either. That is why he tried to tone down the celebrity dimension of the papacy lest it become a liturgical distraction. He was worried too perhaps that it was feeding the postmodern world’s unhealthy appetite for the cult of the celebrity.

Benedict wasn’t a pop star – he was a professor. And he used his papacy to teach. His Christmas Eve and Easter Vigil homilies in particular became moments of catechesis on the fundamental mysteries of the faith.

As his pontificate unfolded I started to read more of what he had written. In addition to his encyclicals and homilies I tried to catch up on his works from earlier years. It was like discovering an Aladdin’s cave of theological treasures.

Salt of the EarthAs a guest lecturer at a teacher training college I placed Ratzinger’s Salt of the Earth on the reading list for the students. It raised more than a few eyebrows. Later when I would meet the students the reaction was always the same; “It wasn’t what we expected. His thinking is so clear. His words are so beautiful.”

Pope Benedict’s primary aim was to invite people to foster an intimate relationship with Christ. It would be in the liturgy, celebrated with reverence, that Christ would “become our contemporary and come in to our lives”. He wanted to rescue the Lord of faith from the excesses of historical-critical biblical scholarship and place a fresh focus on the spirit and nature of the liturgy.

A second thrust was to open the debate between faith and reason. His addresses to the Bundestag, at Westminster Hall and at the College of Bernardins in Paris will stand as the three pillars of this effort. He readily admitted that religion can give rise to fundamentalism and so needs the influence of reason. But reason, without the contribution of faith, can be dangerous too. Interestingly, as we contemplate the possibility of a Pope from the developing world, he also cautioned against the hubris of Eurocentrism in this debate.

Papal Visit Day 2: Key note speech from Catholic Church (England/Wales) on Vimeo.

A Pope’s worst enemy is the man who defends everything he does. And this was not a pontificate without flaws. It would be wishful thinking too to imagine that it has had much of an impact among the wider public.

For those who were listening though, Pope Benedict provided gentle encouragement over the last eight years by reminding us that a relationship with Christ is possible, and essential.

And, as this pontificate reaches its conclusion, I can say that I think I know God better because of Joseph Ratzinger.

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Sunday 17th March

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

Its a day of rest here on the GenerationBenedict blog.

Don’t forget to say a special prayer today for our already beloved Pope Francis.

Then, why not watch his first Angleus address…

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Day 28: Fired Up!

Niall Leahy SJNiall Leahy is a member of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) and is training for the priesthood. He is currently studying philosophy at Heythrop College, London, where he is also involved with the running of the weekly Pure in Heart meeting. 

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI must have had a strong sense of God’s love as being an endless source of reassurance and encouragement.   Why do I think so? Because this is how Benedict himself loved those around him.

Not long after Benedict’s election to the papacy, a wonderful Irish Dominican priest shared an incredible story with me about how this saintly man had re-energised his sense of priestly mission. He was in Rome at the time but had just received news that he would be sent back to Ireland. He wasn’t exactly overjoyed with the prospect of leaving bella Roma to face a desolate Irish church and dwindling congregations. It didn’t bode well.

But lo and behold, one day this forlorn preacher was stopped in his tracks by none other than the then Cardinal Ratzinger.  His Eminence was curious to know why he was so downcast. He explained about having to go back to Ireland and was quite open about his lack of optimism. The Cardinal looked at him and said with total conviction, “Father, Jesus is risen. Go back to Ireland and preach the Good News.” Needless to say that he is still joyfully preaching it and renewal is certainly underway.

Well these images of an encouraging God and an encouraging Pope have stayed with me. Just as well too, because time and time again I have needed to draw heavily on God’s encouragement. Back in 2009, after dedicating a year to discern the Lord’s will, I was pretty sure that He was calling me to be a priest and to be a Jesuit. Well that’s a big ask of any young man. I wasn’t sure if I had what it took or whether I would really fit in with a free-spirited group like the Jesuits. Lord, help me out here!  The Lord heard my call and responded by administering an extra large dose of encouragement and reassurance. He did so via a papal address to the worldwide leaders of the Jesuit order at Rome in 2005. At an emotional gathering, Benedict said,

As my predecessors have often told you, the Church needs you, counts on you, and continues to turn to you with confidence, particularly to reach the geographical and spiritual places where others do not reach or find it difficult to reach. Those words of Paul 6th have remained engraved in your hearts: “Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and exposed fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, there has been or is confrontation between the burning exigencies of humanity and the perennial message of the Gospel, there have been and are the Jesuits.”

Benedict finished with a prayer of St. Ignatius, a prayer that he recognised as being a bit daunting, but that didn’t hold him back.

I join you in the prayer that St Ignatius taught us in the Exercises – a prayer that seems to me too great to the point that I almost dare not say, but which all the same we must always propose to ourselves anew: “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will, all I have and possess; you gave it to me, I now give it back to you, O Lord; all is yours, dispose of it according to your will; give me your love and your grace; that is enough for me.”

JesuitReading all this really fired me up. Even now, when I stay with these words of Benedict, I sense God egging me on to generously serve the Church and the world, no matter how outlandish the mission might seem.  It’s amazing how simply being encouraged can change your prayers from,

“Oh no, choose anyone but me…” to, “Lord! Here I am! Send me! Send me!”

And once you start praying like that, you know that the Lord will take you up on the offer!

Now that Pope Benedict has stepped down from public ministry, he will be deeply consoled to see so many enthusiastic young Catholics, lay, ordained and religious, from all over the world, taking up the Lord’s invitation to be fruitful in the vineyard. I am sincerely grateful for all that he has done for us.

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Day 27: A Very Personal Call to Come Home

Robin Farrow is a former Anglican priest. After further study, including an MA in Catholic theology from Heythrop College London, his interest in the Catholic Church deepened. Robin is currently a seminarian at St John’s, Wonersh and is looking forward to ordination into the Catholic priesthood in the near future. He lives in Hove with his wife and their four young children. 

Although I was vaguely aware of Cardinal Ratzinger at the CDF it was only really when I did my MA in Catholic theology at Heythrop that I began to read his theological writing and found in him a clear beautiful and orthodox theology. His election to the Papacy coincided with my studies there and I was really glad to see that he was elected. At a time when the Church of England seemed to be unravelling theologically and proving itself willing to drift further and further away from the tradition the election of Benedict XVI was a clear sign that the oft expressed opinion in the Church of England that ‘the next Pope’ would change everything and help the Catholic Church catch up with the ‘progressive’ Church of England was simply wishful thinking on the hope of some.

The first volume of his Jesus of Nazareth (2007) was a great gift to the Church, and I was especially moved by the introduction in which he described his approach to the scriptures and encouraged us to use the insights of biblical criticism but in harmony with an inter-canonical reading of the scriptures that did not separate us from the insights of the Fathers.

When he issued Anglicanorum Coetibus it felt like a very personal call to come home. Here was a Pope who understood the longing that many Anglo-catholics felt for unity with the Catholic Church, and who saw clearly that the dream of working towards ecclesial unity which allowed us to remain within the Church of England could no longer be accomplished in the way we had hoped. It was a moment of clarity, and a challenge. What do you really believe?

Robin and his wife, Caroline, at Cofton Park

Robin and his wife, Caroline, at Cofton Park

The papal visit was extremely poignant, occurring only a week after I had announced my resignation as an Anglican priest and intention to convert to Catholicism. For most of my life as an Anglican, Newman had been an inspiration to me, but very much Newman during his time as an Anglican. Reading his Apologia Pro Vita Sua and beginning to discover the Catholic Newman had been one of the many steps in my journey towards becoming a Catholic. It is no doubt, the Holy Father’s own appreciation of Newman which led to his understanding of those Anglo Catholics within the Church of England who saw themselves as spiritual disciples of Newman that enabled him to reach out to us with such a generous heart. To be there at Cofton Park for the beatification Mass at this point in my own conversion was a particular gift, made even more moving, by the Pope’s physical presence.

His example as a teacher and a man of Holiness has sustained and encouraged me in my own journey of faith into the Church and, I have no doubt, made it easier for me to see and appreciate the truth of the Church at that difficult moment of leaving my home in the Church of England and subsequently as a lay catholic and now a seminarian.

I trust his judgment, but it is for me a personal sadness that the Pope who helped me to come home to the Catholic Church will not be there as the Holy Father when, God willing, I am ordained later this year. He remains very much in my prayers with love and gratitude.

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Habemus Papam!

Deo Gratias for Pope Francis!

Pope emeritus and Pope

His first words…

Brothers and sisters good evening.
You all know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother Cardinals have gone almost to the ends of the earth to get him… but here we are. I thank you for the welcome that has come from the diocesan community of Rome.
First of all I would like to say a prayer pray for our Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI. Let us all pray together for him, that the Lord will bless him and that our Lady will protect him.

Our Father…
Hail Mary…
Glory to the Father…

And now let us begin this journey, the Bishop and the people, this journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brotherhood. My hope is that this journey of the Church that we begin today, together with the help of my Cardinal Vicar, may be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city.
And now I would like to give the blessing. But first I want to ask you a favour. Before the Bishop blesses the people I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me – the prayer of the people for their Bishop. Let us say this prayer – your prayer for me – in silence.

Pope Francis 2


[The Protodeacon announced that all those who received the blessing, either in person or by radio, television or by the new means of communication receive the plenary indulgence in the form established by the Church. He prayed that Almighty God protect and guard the Pope so that he may lead the Church for many years to come, and that he would grant peace to the Church throughout the world.]

[Immediately afterwards Pope Francis gave his first blessing Urbi et Orbi – To the City and to the World.]

I will now give my blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will.
Brothers and sisters, I am leaving you. Thank you for your welcome. Pray for me and I will be with you again soon… We will see one another soon.
Tomorrow I want to go to pray to the Madonna, that she may protect Rome.
Good night and sleep well!

From the Vatican News website. Visit the page to hear Pope Francis’ first words…

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Day 26: Lessons from a Gentle Teacher

Joe Hopkins is currently the Lay Catholic Chaplain at the University of Nottingham, soon to be the School Chaplain at Christ the King Catholic Voluntary Academy, Nottingham. Joe is very passionate about the importance of Chaplaincy in Education and working with young people. He is also proud Irishman… from Derby!  www.catholic-community.org.uk

As I begin to write this, on the night before the Pope’s resignation takes effect, my memory is cast back to that day in April 2005, I was 14 at the time and can still remember seeing the white smoke being shown on Newsround! Quickly we switched to the live coverage of the new Pope coming on to the balcony- and there was my first glimpse of Pope Benedict XVI; a man then I knew as the guy who did John Paul II’s funeral but would become the man who shaped by adult faith.

The first few months and years after his election I heard how his Papacy would be a disaster- he’ll be too academic, he won’t relate to young people, he’ll be too traditional etc. I didn’t know what to believe myself, it only took a couple of years until I discovered that Pope Benedict, for me, was and is a teacher; a gentle tutor and he has taught me four of the most incredible lessons in life:

In my first year of university I was part of a group that went to a student conference that concluded with an audience with the Pope in the Papal Palace. This was incredible! I was right at the edge of the aisle so saw him very close as he entered the room and I was taken back at how much he loved being with us! I had never seen someone so happy, so full of love. He was very short but yet the biggest person in the room. I knew then why you call the Pope your Holiness… he was, is, Holy- so so Holy. His address to us was so full of life, I remember being so taken back when he said he would pray for all of us gathered their and our families. THE POPE WAS GOING TO PRAY FOR ME! Surely there are greater things he needed to do with his time? No, this was the first thing Pope Benedict demonstrated to me- Prayer is the most important, most effective and most wonderful thing we can do on earth; everything else is meaningless without it.

At the end of the audience he moved down the aisle shaking people’s hands. I was on the edge and was getting very excited as he slowly made his way down; I was practising what I was going to say ‘God bless you Papa’. Then when he reached the person next to me he went over to the opposite… but then he came back across and remembered who was the last person he hand met and carried on from their. I grabbed his hand and would not let go! I looked him straight in the eye and said ‘God bless you Father!’ (not quite your Holiness) he smiled and said ‘God bless you too’. That was cool. I froze and the Swiss Guard had to physically remove from my grip the poor Pope’s hand. After speaking to us he had a meeting with the Canadian Prime Minister, because the G8 were in Rome, and he was 45 minutes late because he was with us! He has a very different perspective of who VIPs are.

jesus-of-nazareth-iiiI was changed by this meeting and started reading some of his writing most notably his Jesus of Nazareth series. His love for and of Christ shone from every word in the books. Here was a man who knew Jesus like a close friend and he wanted others to have this friendship; to be truly alive to be truly joyful we need a loving, honest and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I believe this is what has driven Pope Benedict throughout his life, and this is what fills him with the Joy that I witnessed myself. I strive to love and know Christ as he does.

I have been privileged to see Pope Benedict a few times more- in Birmingham during his state visit and a couple of times in Madrid during World Youth Day. When he came to the UK he surprised everyone, yet again, he command so much respect with simple actions. Building bridges, creating a legacy and reminding a secular nation the Church is here and it is alive. In Spain he withstood the scorching heat, down pours, gales etc. so that he could show the young people gathered there how much he cared and to encourage their faith further. This is where lesson number three came in do not be afraid to witness to the Gospel and serve the Church. It was after the Papal Visit that I considered working in Chaplaincy and after World Youth Day that I started actually working in it. I learnt that it is the simple acts of kindness in lovingly serving others and the bold yet ordinary witness to the faith; that has the greatest impact on people’s lives.

Finally this month I had my fourth major lesson from our wonderfully Holy Father. Above all be humble- it is for God’s glory why we are here not ours. I like the rest of the world was deeply shocked and saddened by the Pope’s resignation; the only way to describe it is heartbroken. I at first couldn’t understand how he could leave us! Then got over my over-dramatic selfishness and saw his great humility. Authority and leadership can be very enticing: being looked up to, having an effect on people’s lives, being respected and loved. However all this, though often deserved, is not what its about, it probably would be easier for the Pope to not retire to just delegate responsibility and take the easy options. In resigning the Pope has shown a beautiful and humble bravery- his love for the Church, his desire to serve and his deep prayer life- has helped him know his limitations. I believe that he is fully aware that he is one man, a great and wonderful man, but just one man and he has done everything that he can and it is right for the Church and the Gospel if he passes on to the next man. In my opinion Pope Benedict has been and is one of the greatest Pope this Church has seen yet he is only the Pope, he has a major mission but this is part of something greater then himself, Christ’s Church- his Body on earth, and the gates of the underworld will never prevail against it!

I close by drawing together those four lessons again:

  • Prayer is the most important, most effective and most wonderful thing we can do on earth
  • We need a loving, honest and personal relationship with Jesus Christ
  • We should not be afraid to witness to the Gospel and serve the Church
  • Above all be humble- it is for God’s glory why we are here not ours

Hans Küng said a few months ago, indicating to his written work, that time would who had the great legacy between him and the Pope. For me, and many others of ‘Generation Benedict’, these four lessons (and we) are our gentle tutor’s legacy and this will live for many years to come. God bless you Papa, Teacher and Friend.

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Day 25: Part of Something Real

Becca Evenhuis is a 20-year-old Theology student, studying in Chester (but will always be a Londoner at heart!). She is a part-time Taylor Swift enthusiast, with a passion for children’s ministry and her lovely dog Henry.

I am so proud to say that I am part of the BXVI generation. During his time as Pope, Benedict XVI has made me feel like I am part of something real.

I was bought up in a Catholic family, so I am very blessed to be able to say that faith has played a massive part in my life. But I think there comes a point in every believer’s journey where they have to ask themselves ‘how much does this really mean to me? ‘

I think for me that moment was two years ago when the Pope visited the UK. In the months and weeks leading up to his visit, the media were going mad with their anti Pope take on everything. All I was seeing on TV and in the papers was that no one wanted Papa to visit and if I’m honest I was terrified. I thought it would be a flop and I’d be left embarrassed to be Catholic. But God had something better planned (I shouldn’t be surprised really should I?!). Of course the visit was a success. Not only was it a success but it completely flipped my perception of what it is to be Catholic upside down!

Pope Benedict and the crowds at Hyde Park

Pope Benedict and the crowds at Hyde Park

I was at the Mass at Westminster Cathedral and the celebration and prayer vigil at Hyde Park with thousands of other young Catholics from the whole country. Pope Benedict led us in a quiet time of prayer in the evening in front of the Blessed Sacrament. It was during those quiet moments of prayer in front of Our Lord, that for the first time in my life I had a real understanding that the Church is way bigger than I could imagine. I am part of a beautiful, diverse and absolutely HUGE Church, shepherded by the Pope, with Christ at the centre. There are millions of people in the same boat as me, with the same questions, looking to the same God for answers. And if my Church is bigger than I could imagine, then how big must my God be?!

During his visit to the UK, Papa B called us young people to be people of love. To take time to accept the love that God has lavished on us and share that with others. He challenged us to step up in our faith, to not be afraid and to be proud of our identity in Christ.

That has got to be something real, something worth living for!

So thank you Papa! I will never forget you for your bravery when you came to the UK. I will never forget your genuine love for us. I am so impressed by your ability to trust the Holy Spirit and to take a step that many people would be too afraid to take. Thank you for challenging me to be more. Thank you for your service to our Church. We love you and we will be praying for you as you are for us!

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Day 24: Spirit of the Liturgy

Maghnus Monaghan studied for a Certificate in Catechesis at the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham. Last May he completed a Masters in Liturgical Music at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He currently works as organist and director of music at St. Agnes’ Church, Crumlin, Dublin.

I began my studies in university in Music and Mathematics during which time my interest in theology developed. So, after completing my undergraduate degree, I started a part-time degree in Applied Theology. Initially I saw myself as the up and coming Chesterton but quickly realised that in terms of careers there weren’t too many full-time positions in apologetics. I thought about how I might marry my musical skills with my interest in theology and realised that liturgical music was the way to go. It was during my Masters in Liturgical Music that Benedict XVI came to the fore in my studies.

In terms of public perception, Benedict would not have gained a reputation as a liturgical guru; but then again what average punter would be able to name any liturgist? Perhaps his most notable liturgical change was with the new English translation of the Roman Missal, while this was in the pipeline well before he became pope he will surely be remembered for it.

Liturgical theology does not have the luxury of dogma which systematic theology enjoys-on the surface at least. While our liturgy has a very long tradition and some very specific rubrics, it has by no means been consistent from the time of Christ. Because of this people often believe, that in liturgy, anything goes. This of course is not the case. Why then, can we not liturgical limbo dance for God? The answer is not a simple one. While limbo dancing is in most, if not all cases, irreverent, the liturgy functions as the public prayer of the Church and does and should help the faithful to express their faith. The answer to all the question about “dos” and “don’ts” in liturgy are not determined by liturgical rules but by liturgical spirit.

Spirit of the LiturgyCardinal Ratizinger’s book The Spirit of the Liturgy is an exploration of what liturgy should look like, and what it should be focused on. Ultimately and predictably it should point to Christ and as a corollary it should not point inwardly, towards the celebrating assembly. Benedict’s theology of liturgy was represented during his papacy both in his publication of the new translation of the Roman Missal and through liturgical norms which he adopted like the placing of a crucifix in the centre of the altar while celebrating the mass. The former intended not to trick us into saying “And also…with your spirit” but to remind us through the language we use that what we are doing is distinct from everyday life, the latter to deflect the personality of the priest toward the person of Christ.

Benedict’s theology of liturgy (which is not entirely his own) has transformed my approach to liturgical music from playing and singing what the congregation want and like to what the congregation need to participate effectively; which as Benedict would agree, is more an act of the heart and mind than the body.

The crux of Benedict’s underlying thoughts on liturgy are found in the 19th century Benedictine abbot Prosper Guéranger who firmly believed that liturgy done well and in a particular way would secure a Christian identity and lead to renewal in the Church. Developing this idea Benedict says: “unless man’s relationship with God is in order his relationship with the rest of man will not be in order.” Liturgy exists to communicate the vision of God which shows us how to live righteously. For me, this gives the work I do huge meaning. What I am doing directly is singing and playing the organ but indirectly I am contributing a vision of God which tells us how to live our lives.

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Laetare Sunday

Today’s a day off on GenerationBenedict.

Send up a prayer to all those Marching for Life in Birmingham today, defending the dignity of human life.

Also, get prepared for the conclave, which begins on Tuesday, by downloading the Conclave app from Verbum!

  • Be among the first to see the white smoke rise—watch the live video feed from St. Peter’s Square.
  • Learn about the cardinals in the conclave—115 electors, and 1 future pope.
  • Read the official documents instating, defining, and amending the conclave’s process.
  • Follow key Catholic sources and authorities like The National Catholic Register and Jimmy Akin.
  • See what Twitter has to say about the conclave

Its available for iPhone and Android, so no excuses!

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Day 23: Study this Catechism!

Maria Byrne, 21, is from Surbiton Surrey and works as a Lay Chaplain in a primary school. She is involved with Youth 2000 and the youth initiative, Take A Stand.

“A meek man of mighty action” – When I first read these words in a newspaper, describing Pope Benedict, at the time of World Youth Day in Madrid, it hit me: this summed him up so well! Not a mighty man, but a humble one, who nonetheless didn’t shy away from showing courage, taking great action and bringing change.

September, 2010 saw me running down Millbank in London, like a crazed fan, to catch a glimpse of the Pope-mobile driving by. In the few seconds of the Holy Father passing by where I was stood, I looked at his face and could just see love. Even though it was a moment that seemed like it was over before it had even begun, my friend and I both had tears in our eyes, moved by this man we knew hardly anything about. I began to realise that there was something really special about this man, a true, authentic representative of Christ on earth.

You Cat presentationI travelled to World Youth Day for the first time in 2011, and again I just couldn’t help but be moved by this gentle man, who could draw hundreds of thousands of young people, even in the midst of mighty storms. The words he spoke almost seemed to be spoken to me directly, and his chosen motto for World Youth Day that year, “Rooted and Built up in Jesus Christ, Firm in the Faith” really struck a chord within me. One of the gifts I received in Madrid was, of course, a YouCat. I had heard about the Youth Catechism before going to Spain and was really excited to see it, so when my group were given ours, I eagerly flicked through it. I was immediately struck by how accessible and attractive it seemed, and looked forward to using it.

Little did I know that, in a different group to the one I was with, other young people from my parish were having similar experiences and being greatly inspired by World Youth Day! Through sharing our stories and experiences when back home, we all suddenly felt that the time had never been better to start a youth group in our parish. And so, Take A Stand was born (although we actually credit its birthplace at WYD in Madrid, as that is where the Holy Spirit was really working on our hearts individually and giving us inspiration…)! Stirred by the words of our Holy Father and our WYD experiences, the four of us felt that our mission should be threefold: to build solidarity among young Catholics, to catechise (using the YouCat) and to evangelise. Pope Benedict’s words in the very beginning of the YouCat most especially spoke to us, and we really wanted to accept his invitation!

So I invite you: Study this Catechism! That is my heartfelt desire. This Catechism was not written to please you. It will not make life easy for you, because it demands of you a new life. It places before you the Gospel message as the ‘pearl of great value’ (Matt 13:46) for which you must give everything. So I beg you: Study this Catechism with passion and perseverance. Make a sacrifice of your time for it! Study it in the quiet of your room; read it with a friend; form study groups and networks; share with each other on the internet. By all means continue to talk with each other about your faith.

Forward to YouCat

– What a challenge!

YouCatSince its launch one year ago, Take A Stand initiatives have included setting up The Pentecost Project, uniting young people thousands of miles apart in prayer over Skype and holding YouCat in the Park, faith discussion using YouCat in Hyde Park, London. Take A Stand are also currently preparing for WYD in Rio De Janeiro, as there are over 30 young people going from the group. Take A Stand would not exist in its current form, was it not for Pope Benedict and his inspiration in our lives. Even though we now won’t be seeing our beloved Benedict in Brazil this summer, his inspiration, encouragement and legacy continue to spur us on as we journey on the road to Rio. One of his parting phrases will really stick with me: “Remember, Jesus wins!” May we never forget that truth – thank you Holy Father!


Website: www.teamtakeastand.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/teamtakeastand

Twitter: www.twitter.com/teamTakeAStand

Pentecost Project: www.thepentecostproject.weebly.com

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Day 22: The Body of Christ

Dominic Cunliffe is a Youth Worker and Catechist at Holy Ghost Balham, South London and is currently studying for a Bachelor of Divinity with Maryvale Institute. He is also a prolific singer-songwriter and has recently released his debut single “You Sustain” which is available for download at http://dominicjames.bandcamp.com/track/you-sustain. You can also find him on Facebook.

My life, like many of us, has been a long and winding road of discovery. As for my life as a Catholic, that has been so winding it could make you giddy. I was raised Catholic from the cradle and always counted myself as an intensely spiritual man and involved myself quite actively in the church as a young teenager. However, I lost any concept of faith by the time I left university. I left God behind and ended up in a very bleak, dark and godless place. Any remnants of joy in Christ had evaporated.

I later befriended a wonderful group of non-denominational Christians from New Life Church, Cardiff. It was during this time that my joy began to slowly return. I will always see those days as an Oasis for me that got me back on my feet. I even re-discovered my joy in song-writing. Their compassion and mentoring helped me incredibly and I will forever be thankful for them. In general though, I had never fully left behind (what I called at the time) “my Catholic routes” I was not going to mass but I would still attend the odd Catholic retreat or two. One particular Catholic event however was to stir my heart beyond anything I could have predicted.

It was September 2010 and Pope Benedict had come to England. My aunt phoned to inform me there were tickets available to go to Cofton Park in Birmingham where he would be celebrating Mass and beatifying John Henry Newman. I may not have been new to Catholicism, but I did not truly understand the whole “Pope thing” I always understood he was head of the church but I had little interest other than that. Yet something within me said “yes” to this invite and before I knew it I was making my way there on the pilgrim bus. The journey began at 3.00am, a perfectly ungodly hour for an ex-Catholic to ponder why he has got up so early to see an 83 year old man beatify someone you know nothing about.

We arrived in Cofton Park and took our place in the field. As the hours went by, a sense of anticipation swelled up in me. This anticipation increased to a state of nervous excitement, inexplicable emotion, and intense longing. I was suddenly longing, not just to see the Pope arrive, but for something I could not describe. The Holy Spirit was stirring within me like a wild, dancing flame! Pope Benedict arrived. The service began, and I stood in total peace. A quiet, intense joy filled me. I was suddenly aware that I was witnessing something beautiful. Something I didn’t fully understand at the time. It was The Church gathered together in unity with the vicar of Christ. I felt like I belonged to this, yet at the same time felt so distant. I recognised that around me was “The Catholic Church” but my head was telling me I had left this “institution” a long time ago. It was a fond memory and one that was simply part of my CV of “religious experiences” Yet my heart was on fire. Here, with this 83 year old man, in a field next to a disused Longbridge car plant, I felt one at heart with the 80,000 people that surrounded me and every word Pope Benedict said resounded with me. Most profound was the Pope’s exposition on Cardinal Newman’s motto “heart speaks unto heart” and how the Christian life is;

A call to holiness, experienced as the profound desire of the human heart to enter into intimate communion with the Heart of God
Cofton Park, Birmingham, 19 September 2010

The cogs in my head started to wind. Over the following months I slowly began to realise that faith was an internal dialogue with God on an individual level, but not separate from that universal and communal dialogue, expressed by a true, visible reality, The Catholic Church. We, The Church, were summoned that day to bear visible witness to Christ and proclaim the faith as One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, united in Christ with the Pope as the “perpetual and visible source and foundation of unity” (CCC 882) I can express that now, in those words, but at the time, all I could express was that I was really, really, excited to be there. Although I did not leave from here and immediately jump back into the nearest Catholic Church, I sensed that a big change had happened within me. I felt there was more to this “old man” other than a fancy hat and robe and I knew there was more to the church than just “my personal faith” and that God was asking more from me. He was asking me to be re-united with His Church. I recalled Jesus in the Garden where he earnestly prayed that we “may all be one” (John 17:21) and I sensed, as I looked around this field, that this could well be an answer to that prayer.


How apt it is for me now, to read Benedict’s final address as Pope to the crowds in St Peters Square. Gathered exactly like we were in Birmingham, Benedict addressed the mystery of the universal church with words that give me goosebumps in their relevance to me.

Here you can touch what is really the Church – not an organization, not an association for religious or humanitarian goals, but a living body, a community of brothers and sisters in the Body of Jesus Christ, who unites us all. We experience the Church in this way and could almost be able to touch it with your hands.
St Peter’s Square. Wednesday, 27 February 2013

That day, in Birmingham, I felt like I touched the Church with my hands. The Catholic Church for me at that time was a “memory” that I had left behind. Little did I know how symbolic and providential me being there was, for 2 years later I would be studying with Maryvale Institute, who are based in Birmingham and whose founder is none other than John Henry Newman, a convert to Catholicism. That day, I did more than just go through the motions of “Catholicism” For the first time, I entered into the visible reality of “The Church”, I opened my heart to it. If I am honest, I was scared. Scared from all the lies I had heard about the them, that they were not biblical, not founded on Christ and deeply routed in error. I was also worried about what my fellow non Catholic Christian friends would say. In that moment I abandoned those fears and stepped out. Over the next few months, those fears soon dissolved. And why fear? There is no need, as Pope Benedict so passionately exclaimed at the start of his Petrine ministry.

Dear young people: 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. Amen.
St. Peter’s Square, Sunday, 24 April 2005

Amen indeed! Thank you Benedict helping me open the doors to Christ. For helping me touch that living and mystical reality that is The Church. Thank you for your humble and unwavering service to uphold the truth. You have served the flock. You have served me. I have indeed opened my heart and God has spoken directly to it. Thank you for leading me, vicar of Christ. I am proud to be part of Generation Benedict.

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Day 21: Reaching out

Majella is a 27 year old MSc student in Psychology in Dublin, who has an interest in Spirituality, and the dialogue between Christianity and other religious traditions.

My first memory of Pope Benedict was when he stepped out onto the global stage on his first overseas journey, to address the youth gathered for World Youth Day in Cologne. This was an unusual occasion, because his homily had been prepared in advance by his predecessor Pope John Paul, giving the impression that the recently deceased Pope was still very much present with the young people; while at the same time an emerging curiosity arose in the youth about this new Pope, who was now being warmly welcomed in his homeland.

Skip forward three years to the same Pope who traveled to the ‘ends of the earth’, to meet with the young people at the World Youth Day in Sydney. In his millennial pastoral trip to Israel, Pope John Paul courageously addressed the wrongs committed by the Catholic Church towards the Jewish people in his public apology for the persecution of Jews by Catholics over the centuries. In Sydney, Benedict showed similar compassion when he acknowledged the hurt caused to those affected by abuse committed by Catholic clergy in Australia.

In his closing homily at Randwick Racecourse, Benedict showed a deep understanding of the challenges we are facing in our lives and the potential contribution that we as young people can offer to the Church and the rest of humanity:

Dear young people, let me now ask you a question. What will you leave to the next generation? Are you building your lives on firm foundations, building something that will endure?… The world needs this renewal! In so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading: an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair.

Empowered by the Spirit, and drawing upon faith’s rich vision, a new generation of Christians is being called to help build a world in which God’s gift of life is welcomed, respected and cherished –not rejected, feared as a threat and destroyed. A new age in which love is not greedy or self-seeking, but pure, faithful and genuinely free, open to others, respectful of their dignity, seeking their good, radiating joy and beauty. A new age in which hope liberates us from the shallowness, apathy and self-absorption which deaden our souls and poison our relationships.

Dear young friends, the Lord is asking you to be prophets of this new age, messengers of his love, drawing people to the Father and building a future of hope for all humanity.

I received these words as a personal challenge from the Holy Father, which I have tried to put into practice over the last five years!

How can you love someone that you do not know, whether that person is Jesus Christ or a remote figure such as the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church?

If you rely only on mainstream media reports to gain this knowledge then you will only receive one depiction of Pope Benedict.

I am glad to be part of Generation Benedict. While attending five gatherings with Pope Benedict, over the last seven years, I have had an opportunity to build up a personal relationship with this Pope and the tradition he represents. What strikes me is the steadfastness and humility with which he has communicated the core messages of the Church, while embracing new technologies such as Twitter in order to do so.

Pope Benedict XVI (R) greets British professor Stephen Hawking during a meeting of science academics at the Vatican October 31, 2008. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano        (VATICAN)

Pope Benedict XVI greets British professor Hawking during a meeting of science academics at the Vatican

As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict worked with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Pope Benedict had a wider role as overseer of the Pontifical Academies. In this role, he inspired me in the way he reached out to those who would not normally be associated in a positive way with the Catholic Church or its tradition. I am thinking of people such as Stephen Hawking, who is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Sciences, and members of the Pontifical Academy of Fine Arts and Letters of the Virtuosi at the Pantheon, which counts many contemporary artists amongst its membership.

I am grateful to Pope Emeritus Benedict for being our German Shepherd!


Day 20: “Cooperatores Veritatis”

Ben and Sarah Thatcher, a married couple from Birmingham, help run the 2nd Friday mission.

SAM_3100As a married couple, Pope Benedict XVI has had a profound influence on our lives.  Over the course of his Pontificate he has spoken of the importance of marriage and the family hundreds of times, giving a sense of how crucial marriage and family values are to the stability of our communities and the wider world.  He has spoken with great courage and wisdom on many difficult and challenging topics with regard to marriage and family life and has remained a positive influence and a strong guiding force in a tumultuous atmosphere within the wider society.  He has a particular affection for newly weds and has continued to advise and bless newly wed couples in his weekly Wednesday address, showing how dear married couples are to his heart and his unwavering support for them in their vocation.  He has spoken in particular on the need for couples to receive adequate marriage preparation in order to prepare them for the challenges that married life in a secular society can bring. “An appropriate preparation for Christian marriage is indispensable if the young are to be able to withstand social pressures and develop the human and spiritual qualities required to establish themselves as united and harmonious couples.”

For us personally, we have welcomed his and the Churches teachings on marriage and procreation as it has changed our lives for the better as since dealing with difficulties in a faithful way to the Church’s teachings, our marriage has been strengthened and our spiritual lives transformed.  Quite early on into our marriage, we discovered that we were having problems conceiving a child and were experiencing infertility problems.  At first we were tempted as all couples are to take up the standard treatment options available on the NHS and to undertake artificial insemination.  However, after researching what the Magisterium of the Church had to say on such issues, after much difficult soul searching we decided to stay faithful to the Church’s teachings and not to take the treatment options on offer to us.  It was a very difficult decision to make, however we decided that we only wanted a child in co-operation with God’s will for us and that the conception of a child should only happen between the two of us a part of God’s loving union.  Pope Benedict himself has been very clear on his views on this issue and is an inspiration to all infertile couples, showing us that we still have a lot to offer and how important it is to co-operate with God’s will.

“Indeed, the union of a man and a woman, in that community of love and life which is marriage, represents the only worthy ‘place’ for a new human being to be called into existence,” he said. He told a gathering at the Pontifical Academy for Life that “the field of human procreation seems to be ruled by scientism and the logic of profit,” which often “restrict many other areas of research.” He said that the Church is “attentive to the suffering of infertile couples…and her concern for them is what leads her to encourage medical research.” He continued:

“Science, nonetheless, is not always capable of responding to the needs of many couples, and so I would like to remind those who are experiencing infertility that their matrimonial vocation is not thereby frustrated. By virtue of their baptismal and matrimonial vocation, spouses are always called to collaborate with God in the creation of a new humanity. The vocation to love, in fact, is a vocation of self-giving and this is something which no bodily condition can impede.”

Pontifical Academy for Life, 25/02/2012

Life Fertility CareIn fact for us, we decided to take treatment with Life Fertility Care, which only practices in natural methods of fertility treatment, which are very much in line with the Catholic Church.  Their philosophy is to work very much with a woman’s body and to find out the reasons through scientific charting and research as to why a woman may not be conceiving and to treat the cause of infertility at its root.  As a result of our fidelity to God’s will and by taking this route we found out that Sarah had endometriosis, a fact that would never have come to light if we had taken the traditional NHS route as she was not displaying symptoms. If we undertaken artificial insemination as a treatment option, then it would just have failed and we would have been none the wiser as to why.  As well as this, Life Fertility Care places much importance on the couple and their relationship.  As a result of this contrary to popular experience with more invasive treatments like Artificial Insemination or IVF, our marriage has grown stronger and our relationship nourished as a result of our experience.  We have also had the wonderful benefit of growing closer to God throughout the whole experience and developing a relationship with him through our suffering that we would never have experienced without this journey.  We are forever grateful for the strong leadership of our Church and the fact that it does not change over time to match popular opinion.  We are grateful that the Church emphasizes the fact that God gives us natural laws for our happiness and well-being.  We may or may not conceive a child this way, but we now know that this is not crucial to our future happiness.  We realize that children are a wonderful gift form God and not our right.  If he chooses to bless us in this way, then that will be wonderful, but if not we know that our loving union has such a lot to offer and to contribute.  We recognize that the love we experience through our marriage should be shared with others and the wider community, we are trying to give something of our love to others such as the young, homeless, the vulnerable and the aged and sick of our community.  As Pope Benedict has said;

 May they learn to preserve family values such as “filial respect, love and care for the aged and the sick.

Pope Benedict to the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Laos and Cambodia, 06/09/2007

We have developed our lives to be full and life giving to others, so that our marriage can benefit society.  We have pledged together to always look after our families, especially our aged relatives, we run youth and young adult groups, we visit the aged and sick in our community, have helped the homeless, have cooked for those who are alone on Christmas day and have learnt more about our faith and are continually seeking to deepen our relationship with the Lord.  As a result of our obedience our lives have been transformed and we give thanks so much to Pope Benedict for being so instrumental in that.

We have been truly inspired by Pope Benedict’s courageous leadership and the more we have read his books especially his trilogy of the life and ministry of Jesus we have had our faith deepened and our hearts left burning with the love of God. He has made the most profound and deep theology accessible to the lay person and has the humility to say that his work is a personal project that we can accept or reject.

We always admired the Pope, but it wasn’t really until his visit to the UK that we really fell in love with this “Rottweiler” who actually turned out to be the most humble and infectious man with a smile that softened the nation. We will never forget how on the day he arrived in Cofton Park, the rain came down relentlessly, that is until Pope Benedict arrived and the rain stopped and as he stepped out of the helicopter for a brief moment the sun shone, God shone out his blessing onto this Holy man and our hearts were filled with joy.  The day was the best day of our life (apart from our wedding day!) and made us feel proud to be Catholics once again and gave us the courage to share our faith with others, giving reason for the joy within us.  We reflected for days and weeks afterwards on the words Pope Benedict had for us, giving us inspiration to work tirelessly for our vocations and to aim for nothing less than Sainthood.  This is something that guides us all of the time, in our marriage, in our day jobs, in our work for 2nd Friday, 40 Days for Life and our youth work.

We are so grateful for your ministry and your courageous words, you have truly touched our lives forever.

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Day 19: Finding the Truth

Thomas Starkie, 17, is a member of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. He belongs to the Manchester Ordinariate Mission, where he manages the website and plays the organ at Sunday Mass.

I only vaguely remember the election of Pope Benedict XVI – I was nine at the time. We were staying with a friend, and watched it on her TV, all very excited, just waiting to see what the outcome of the election would be. At the time we were Anglicans, however, so for me, life went on, and the Pope seemed for the most part just a fairly important person belonging to some other denomination that didn’t really concern me. It was only a year or two later that Catholicism, and the Holy Father, came back to my thoughts; I went on a short retreat with some young Catholics, to Holy Island. What particularly struck me there was that, during the talks on different aspects of Catholicism, everything was based on what was true. I found myself in an environment where there was a great deal of certainty, because there was also truth. The questions being asked by the other participants were not seeking answers that were comforting, not seeking for personal opinions to be justified, but looking for the true answer to everything. This struck me partially because, at the centre of the answers was the church, the church’s teachings on faith, on scripture. And at the head of the church on Earth was the Pope. Guiding the church to the truth. For me then, that was pretty amazing, and I really wanted to keep finding the Truth. At that point I was fairly sure that I wanted to become a Catholic.

Skipping forward a few years, and we had Anglicanorum Coetibus and the Papal visit to Britain. Suddenly things began moving. Not only was there a sudden opening – an invitation – for Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Catholic church, but the Pope was coming to England to beatify Cardinal Newman, who was to become the patron of the Ordinariate in England and Wales.

The first time I saw Pope Benedict was during his visit, at the Hyde Park vigil. Although at the time I did not fully realise it, that evening has been one of the most significant points in my life. The thing that stood out the most for me was the wisdom of his words – he put so much meaning into every sentence – and the way he was able to convey his meaning to everyone so easily. As he spoke he reached out to everyone, and spoke to everyone; he spoke on a level that everyone could understand.

Pope Benedict celebrating Mass in Rome

Pope Benedict celebrating Mass in Rome

Thanks to Pope Benedict’s invitation, I was received into the Catholic church as a member of the Ordinariate at the Easter Vigil of 2011, and for my confirmation name, I looked back to that retreat on Holy Island, and thought of the Northumbrian saints. I chose Bede.
In the summer of 2012, we went on a family pilgrimage to Rome, where we attended the Papal audience, and also the Papal Mass on the feast of St Peter and St Paul. The moment that I particularly remember was the beginning of the Creed. When I heard Pope Benedict chant Credo in unum Deum, that was amazing. The Creed had been fairly automatic for me before that, a prayer that I just said without really thinking, but this actually made me want to jump up and shout “Me too!”
A few weeks later, I went on another Catholic youth retreat, this time to Walsingham for the Youth 2000 Searchlight prayer festival. Nothing could possibly have prepared me for what happened there. It was during the Healing Service, when the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament was being carried from person to person, each one reaching out in reverence to touch the humeral veil, in a wonderful recalling of the healing of the woman who touched the cloak of Jesus, when I realised, inexplicably, that what I was seeing was the real presence of Jesus. It sounds like something fairly obvious, as it is, after all, a fundamental church teaching that the blessed sacrament is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. It wasn’t even that I didn’t know this. It was just a sudden realisation of everything that that meant. I was absolutely awed. I prayed then something that I’d never prayed before. Jesus, I open my heart to you. Then, absolutely out of nowhere, I felt a calling. A calling to the Priesthood. It wasn’t until a few days later, when I had returned home, that I remembered the Pope’s address in Hyde Park. I was watching the DVD ‘The Calling’, about vocations, which contained a clip from the address. The words seemed now to be addressing me directly about my journey into Catholicism:

Dear young friends: only Jesus knows what ‘definite service’ he has in mind for you. Be open to his voice resounding in the depths of your heart: even now his heart is speaking to your heart… Ask our Lord what he has in mind for you! Ask him for the generosity to say ‘yes!’ Do not be afraid to give yourself totally to Jesus. He will give you the grace you need to fulfill your vocation.

Hyde Park Prayer vigil, 18/9/10