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Bishop Koenig recalls Pope Benedict XVI’s faith, humility, love for God at memorial Mass in Wilmington: Photo gallery

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WILMINGTON — Bishop Koenig remembered the late Pope Benedict XVI for his faith, humility and love for God in a memorial Mass at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Wilmington on Jan. 4. The former pontiff died Dec. 31 in Vatican City at the age of 95.

Several priests and seminarians joined Bishop Koenig and Bishop Emeritus W. Francis Malooly for the noontime Mass. The church’s bells tolled 95 times leading up to the service, once for each year of Benedict’s life.

“We give thanks to God for the gift of life that was given over 95 years ago to Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger,” Bishop Koenig said. Benedict “used his gifts so faithfully, humbly and lovingly to serve God and the church.”

Bishop Koenig touched on each of those aspects of Benedict’s life during his homily through the faint haze and scent of incense. Through his articles, messages, exhortations, books and homilies, Benedict understood that faith and reason “are not opposed to each other, but, in his words, are natural allies.”

Pope Francis issued his first encyclical several months after succeeding Benedict in 2013. Pope Francis said his text was largely based on work Pope Benedict had done and made available to him. A central figure in the encyclical is Abraham, who does not see God but hears his voice. Benedict, Bishop Koenig said, listened to God’s voice.

At his final papal audience in February 2013, Benedict talked about hearing that voice. The pope, according to Bishop Koenig, said, “And now eight years later, I can say that the Lord has truly led me. He has been close to me. I have been able to perceive his presence today.”

The church, the pope said that day, has highs and lows, and Pope Benedict felt like St. Peter in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. There are days when the catch is abundant, and others when the seas are rough.

“I have always known that the Lord is in that boat,” Bishop Koenig quoted Pope Benedict as saying.

Bishop Koenig, talking about the late pope’s humility, recalled that then-Cardinal Ratzinger preferred he not be selected to succeed Pope John Paul II in 2005, but that was not God’s plan, the bishop said. Once he was selected, however, he appeared in the central loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica and called himself “a simple, humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord.”

That reminded Bishop Koenig of St. Joseph, the adopted father of Jesus. Like St. Joseph, much of Benedict’s life centered on caring for the church.

The final point of the homily addressed Pope Benedict’s love for God. Bishop Koenig said encounters with Christ often give our lives a new horizon and a definite direction.

When Pope Benedict was a youngster in Germany, he was conscripted into the Nazi army. He wrote about his decision to desert despite the risks associated with leaving. Benedict knew that he could be executed if he was caught. One day, while walking down a road, he was stopped by Nazi soldiers, but they let him go because his arm was in a sling, so they told him to go heal.

“Thank God they were ones who had enough of war and did not want to become murderers,” Pope Benedict wrote years later.

His experiences informed his teaching. “He spoke very clearly, warning us as a people of God of the dictatorship of relativism, not to be co-opted by the world around him,” Bishop Koenig said.

“May we be strengthened to grow in our love of God by Benedict’s example.”