VATICAN CITY — Here is an exclusive excerpt from the English translation of “My Brother, the Pope” by Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, which will be released March 1 by Ignatius Press. The book, originally published in German, takes the form of an interview, along with editorial commentary, by co-author Michael Hesemann.
Q. How do you address him then?
A. I call him Joseph, of course; anything else would be abnormal.
Q. Does he suffer intensely from the many attacks from the media also?
A. He is personally very sensitive, but he also knows from which corner these attacks come and the reason for them, what is usually behind them. That way he overcomes it more easily, he rises above it more simply. It is nevertheless true, too, that he most often meets with a lot of sympathy, again and again and wherever he goes.
Q. Can you reveal to us his greatest wish?
A. Well, I really cannot mention one single specific wish. He simply hopes that he succeeds in completing his task as well as possible, that from the human side he can contribute his part to what the Holy Spirit is working from above.
Q. In your view, what are the focal points of his pontificate?
A. The focal points result from particular situations to which he reacts, and therefore they are more reactive than active. But he is, of course, very concerned that the liturgy should be celebrated worthily and that it be celebrated correctly. Indeed, that is a genuine problem. Our diocesan music director recently said that it is by no means easy nowadays to find a church where the pastor celebrates his Mass according to the regulations of the church. There are so many priests who think they have to add something here and change something there. So my brother wants an orderly, good liturgy that moves people interiorly and is understood as a call from God.
Q. Do you see continuity between the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, or is your brother focusing on different matters?
A. You cannot say that, because to a great extent pontificates are not defined by the will of the pope but, rather, are reactions and responses to the events of their time. Of course, the events of our time manifest a certain degree of continuity; there are no major leaps or breaks but, rather, problems that develop continuously over the decades. No doubt, John Paul II took his inspiration from my brother in many areas and, of course, was in ongoing contact with him; he set great store by his judgment. In that regard, then, there is a certain similarity, and the two pontificates do not differ in essential points.
Q. What does the pope’s normal daily routine look like?
A. Now, I do not know what all is supposed to be confidential, but I think I can speak about this. Early in the morning around 7, he celebrates holy Mass in his private chapel, and afterward he makes a short meditation and, finally, prays the breviary until breakfast at around 8. Until then, we are together, when I happen to be visiting him; then we say goodbye at that point in time, and each goes to his apartment.
Then he prepares for the events of the day, for instance, for the visitors he will receive in a personal audience: Who are they and what is their concern or the request they come to make? That, of course, requires a thorough preparation and an equally careful follow-up.
On Tuesdays, there is also the preparation for the large audience on Wednesday morning. For example, he has to practice the pronunciation of the foreign languages in which he will greet the pilgrims and the pilgrimage groups — of course, he does not speak them all fluently. For this purpose, he listens to the correct pronunciation on a tape and then practices it, so as to avoid making big mistakes and to be understood correctly.
At 1:15 p.m. on weekdays, the midday meal is served — on Sunday, earlier at 1 — and afterward, he takes a short walk through the garden on the roof of the Apostolic Palace, because “Post coenam stabis vel passus mille meabis” (After eating you should rest, or else walk a thousand steps). Then comes the siesta, but he does not use the whole siesta time to rest; instead, he also writes letters and postcards and reads all sorts of things. I get the impression, in any case, that he works for part of the siesta time. In the summer, we always prayed the breviary at around 4 in the afternoon, while at 5 he takes a walk either in the Vatican Gardens or the garden of Castel Gandolfo, during which he prays the rosary together with his secretary, Msgr. Georg Ganswein. In the winter, on the other hand, when it gets dark early, this walk takes place at 4. Toward 6, the regularly scheduled audiences are held. In the morning, there are the private audiences, in which he receives most importantly the bishops who come from abroad and heads of state, and so on, while the afternoon is reserved for the regularly scheduled audiences in which the heads of the various curia offices give their reports and offer suggestions in matters in which the pope must make a decision.
The evening meal is at 7:30; at 8 he watches the news. At around 8:30, he takes another short walk on the roof or, in the winter, in the corridors of the house. Afterward, compline, the night prayer of the church, is prayed, and with that his work day actually ends. Usually we sit down in the living room and talk for a while.
Q. Do you also watch television together? Does the Holy Father have a favorite program?
A. Well, before the news, there used to be a television series “Inspector Rex.” We always used to watch it, because we like dogs, too. We are well acquainted with Herr Helmut Brossmann, the owner of the German shepherd “Rex” who plays the title role. He lives in the vicinity of Regensburg; he is also the manager of the Kastelruther Spatzen or the Augsburg Puppenkiste. He has even organized a few events for the Domspatzen. He is originally from the Sudetenland and converted to the Catholic faith a few years ago. A canon from the “Old Chapel” instructed him, and I was his confirmation sponsor. He is a great animal lover, and besides breeding German shepherds, including both of the dogs who portrayed “Rex,” he has a whole zoo; furthermore, he is co-owner of the famous kennel that breeds Saint Bernards at the Great Saint Bernard Pass in the Alps. Other than that, my brother rarely watches television, at most a video film once in awhile that is related in some way to the Vatican or to a forthcoming canonization or beatification.
Q. It is said that he reads aloud to you from the breviary since your vision is no longer very good, while you play music for him.
A. That is right; he prays the breviary aloud: after Mass in the morning, vespers in the afternoon, and compline in the evening, because I can no longer pray them alone. In the evening, before we go to sleep, he sometimes asks me to play a song for him. Then I play for him on the piano a hymn or a folk song, for instance, “Im schonsten Wiesengrund [In the most beautiful meadow],” or night songs like “Der Mond ist aufgegangen [The moon has risen]” or “Adieu zur guten Nacht [Goodbye and good night],” just very simple things. In Advent or the Christmas season, of course, I play Christmas carols instead, whatever suits the occasion.
Q. Does he go to bed rather early?
A. Yes, actually after the evening meal he does not work anymore; that was always the case. He can concentrate phenomenally throughout the day and works very quickly and efficiently. But he is not at all someone who works at night.
Q. What does it mean for you to be the pope’s brother now?
A. Ah, personally, little has changed; more externally than interiorly. It is true, of course, that I am suddenly interesting to many people for whom I was previously nobody important. So I get many phone calls, from the press and other media, too; people often visit me, and I have been able to establish contacts that I did not have before. At first this led to a certain unrest in my life but, fortunately, that has gradually ebbed away.
Otherwise, I must admit, not much has actually changed in my relationship with my brother, either. Only in prayer, then you present entirely different concerns to the dear Lord now. But still, the personal relationship has remained the same.