“WE THANK GOD FOR THE WITNESS AND MINISTRY OF POPE BENEDICT” – ARCHBISHOP BERNARD LONGLEY

Archbishop Bernard Longley pictured during Lent 2013. Picture by Peter Jennings

The Most Reverend Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, celebrated a special Mass of Thanksgiving for Pope Benedict XVI, on the Feast of the Chair of St Peter the Apostle, 22 February, in the Metropolitan Cathedral of St Chad, Birmingham, packed to capacity.

The full text of the memorable homily given by the Archbishop of Birmingham on that occasion is released today, Thursday, 28 February 2013, the last day of the eight-year Pontificate of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.

Archbishop Bernard Longley said:

You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.

“As little as two weeks ago nobody could have foreseen that we should be gathered here for a Mass of thanksgiving for the Pontificate of Pope Benedict. Although the Code of Canon Law makes provision for the resignation of the Pope – and Pope Benedict himself has made occasional reference to the possibility – nobody imagined that the present pontificate would draw to a close in this way.

“Now that we have begun to move beyond the original surprise we have a moment to reflect on the magnitude and wisdom of the decision that the Holy Father has made and on the lasting impact of the manner of his departure from the Petrine ministry. It is an act of profound humility and of obedience and it mirrors the beginning of Pope Benedict’s pontificate.

“The Holy Father was elected to succeed Blessed Pope John Paul II in 2005 when he was already 78. Humility and obedience characterised the decision he then made to accept this responsibility at an already advanced age, simply placing his trust in Christ and obedient to the will of the Father.

“He could little have imagined then how fruitful his pontificate would be, especially through the impact of his teaching and his apostolic journeys to many parts of the globe. Here in the United Kingdom in 2010, and more especially for us in the City of Birmingham, we were to benefit from his presence and from the impact of his words.

“September 2010 was a time of extraordinary grace for the Catholic community in England & Wales and in Scotland. Pope Benedict, as our Supreme Pastor, set before us afresh the central themes of the Gospel, relating them to our own time and experience – he spoke up as a witness for the truth. In particular he strengthened our resolve to continue to play our part in public and civic life, confident that the contribution of faith to public service and the common good can be more clearly demonstrated.

“What we witnessed was also a moment of spiritual importance for the people of our countries who welcomed Pope Benedict with a warmth that clearly moved him and in a way that confounded earlier critics of the visit.

“As he bade the Holy Father farewell at Birmingham Airport Prime Minister David Cameron said Pope Benedict had challenged the whole country to sit up and think. A challenge to us all to follow our conscience to ask not what are my entitlements, but what are my responsibilities? To ask not what we can do for ourselves, but what we can do for others?

“The Holy Father awakened the lasting though sometimes hidden memory of the Christian roots that will always be the foundation of our society and he leaves us with a challenge. How can we help others understand our common future in relation to the God who is our only certain and unchanging point of reference?

“The impact of Pope Benedict’s visit was felt not only by Christians but by many others for whom faith in God is their compass-point in life. It highlights an opportunity and a challenge that Blessed John Henry Newman recognised in the changing society of his own time. It is not so much that the truth and beauty of God and the values offered by religion are being ignored or rejected, but our own attempts to express or share our faith sometimes fail to move our contemporaries.

“The memory of his visit to Birmingham is heightened as we thank God for the witness and ministry of Pope Benedict. He has listened to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and in obedience he has decided to step down from office next Thursday for the good of the Church that he loves. He wants the whole Church to turn its attention in prayer towards the election of his successor by the College of Cardinals next month (March).

“But we cannot do so without this moment of gratitude and affection for one who heard the words of Christ to Peter and knew that they were also addressed for a while to himself: You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church. Soon they will be addressed to another as the ministry that our Lord entrusted to Peter continues to serve the Church in our own time.

“His brief but fruitful pontificate has not been without its challenges and controversies, but Pope Benedict has sought to confront them with truthfulness and charity. He has offered positive initiatives in the service of the Gospel to counter the negative forces that have threatened to undermine the effective preaching of the Good News. Those special years dedicated to the Priesthood, the Year of St Paul, and the Year of the Eucharist have led us to this Year of Faith inaugurated by Pope Benedict last October.”

Archbishop Bernard Longley concluded: “The Year of Faith with its emphasis on the New Evangelization will now usher in the ministry of a new pope and set the tone for its early years. In the manner of his departing, during this special year, Pope Benedict is emphasising that our attention should always be focussed on our Lord Jesus Christ and on his Gospel since these are served by the Church’s mission and in a particular way by the Petrine ministry itself.

“Our Lord is calling Pope Benedict to another way of serving the Church at the heart of which is a life of prayer. So we pray that Pope Benedict may be blessed in the remaining days of his pontificate and it the uncharted days ahead, knowing that his example will continue to be an inspiration and a reason for thanksgiving.”