Pope Benedict XVI life and biography

Pope Benedict XVI picture, image, poster

Pope Benedict XVI biography

Date of birth : 1927-04-16
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, Germany
Nationality : German and Vatican
Category : Historian personalities
Last modified : 2010-04-07
Credited as : Pope Benedict XVI, successor of Pope John Paul II,

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Pope Benedict XVI is the 265th and current Pope, by virtue of his office of Bishop of Rome, the head of the Catholic Church and, as such, Sovereign of the Vatican City State. He was elected on 19 April 2005 in a papal conclave, celebrated his Papal Inauguration Mass on 24 April 2005, and took possession of his cathedral, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, on 7 May 2005. A native of Bavaria, Pope Benedict XVI has both German and Vatican citizenship. He succeeded Pope John Paul II.

Born on April 16, 1927, in Marktl am Inn, Germany, Ratzinger grew up in the small town of Traunstein in the southern German region of Bavaria. His father Joseph was a policeman who took a dim view of the Nazi ideology that was on the rise, and later suffered a job demotion as a result. Bavaria was the heartland of German Catholicism, and the church's complex and all-encompassing rituals moved Ratzinger. "The Church year gave the time its rhythm, and I experienced that with great gratitude and joy already as a child," Ratzinger wrote in a memoir quoted by Anthony Grafton in a New Yorker magazine survey of Ratzinger's writings. "It was a riveting adventure to move by degrees into the mysterious world of the liturgy, which was being enacted before us and for us there on the altar." Ratzinger learned Latin as a teenager and went on to master a total of eight languages, including ancient Greek and Hebrew.

Even the horrors of World War II did not shake Ratzinger's developing immersion in the life of faith. Indeed, Catholicism served him as a something of a refuge as he was forced to join the Hitler Youth organization in 1941, and was drafted into the army and assigned to guard a BMW factory where prisoners of war worked. Although he never saw combat, he later was sent out to set tank booby traps in eastern Germany. During this mission, he saw a trainload of Hungarian Jews on its way to a concentration camp. As German resistance dissolved in 1945, Ratzinger deserted his post. He was captured and briefly held as an American prisoner of war in 1945. Shortly thereafter he was released, and he made his way back to his little hometown and its comforting cycles of Catholic spirituality.

After the war he enrolled at St. Michael's Seminary in Traunstein, Germany and realized, as Munich Archbishop Michael von Faulhaber celebrated Mass in the city's great cathedral, that his beloved Catholic Church had survived the war more or less intact. He had wanted to become a priest since he was a teenager, and now his life's direction was set. Ratzinger's brother Georg and sister Maria both devoted themselves to the Church as well; Georg became the director of the internationally known Regensburg Cathedral Choir, and Maria served as Joseph Ratzinger's personal secretary. Ratzinger was ordained in 1951 and moved on for further theological and philosophical study at Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich.

Pope John Paul II named Ratzinger head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981 - the office that had once carried out what was known as the Inquisition. In this post, he was the chief overseer of Catholic doctrine. Over the years, Ratzinger consistently reaffirmed traditional church teachings on birth control, homosexuality (which he once, according to People, called "an intrinsic moral evil"), divorce, priestly celibacy, and other hot-button issues on which American Catholics increasingly challenged Rome's authority while Europeans simply shrugged as church attendance dropped. He was one of the few church figures to read the much-discussed Third Prophecy said to have been given by an apparition of the Virgin Mary to a Portuguese girl, Lucia dos Santos, in 1917, but his few comments on the matter did little to dampen speculation as to the message's contents.

He played a key role in severely limiting the reach of the activist liberation theology movement that flourished in much of Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s, believing that the movement erred in associating salvation too closely with good works. Ratzinger required one of the movement's leaders, Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff, to stop writing and teaching. He also worked to limit the influence of his former mentor Hans Küng, who was quoted by David van Biema of Time as saying that a conversation with Ratzinger was like talking with the "head of the KGB," the secret police of the Communist-era Soviet Union.

Ratzinger's hard work was rewarded with a steady rise into John Paul's inner circle. In 1998 he became Vice Dean of the College of Cardinals, and in 2002 Pope John Paul II approved his selection as Dean - making Ratzinger, at the very least, a figure of key importance in the selection of the next pope. After the death of the much-beloved John Paul on April 2, 2005, speculation centered on whether the College of Cardinals would opt for continuity with John Paul's conservatism or change direction in some way. Campaigning for the papacy was done only in the subtlest of ways, but the 78-year-old Ratzinger did not avail himself even of those; he made no secret of his desire to return to a life of quiet study in Germany after his 25-year-stint as doctrinal point man. Nevertheless, after a relatively brief two-day papal conclave of the College of Cardinals, Ratzinger was elected pope on the fourth ballot. He took the name Benedict XVI in honor of St. Benedict, one of the great fathers of Catholic monasticism.

In general, Benedict seemed to emphasize a theme sounded, in various inflections, by many other religious leaders: he called for spiritual renewal. As quoted by van Biema, he called the West "a world that is tired of its own culture … that has arrived at a time in which there's no more evidence of the need for God, much less Christ, and in which it seems that man alone can make himself." Though he did not have, and did not seek to possess, the star quality of John Paul II, he drew crowds comparable to those that had flocked to Rome's St. Peter's Square to catch a glimpse of his predecessor. Young Catholics meeting in Cologne, Germany, in August of 2005 at the church's World Youth Day, where John Paul had been warmly venerated, began to regard him with equal affection. Beyond his positions on specific issues, Pope Benedict XVI saw a return to faith as an answer for a world in spiritual crisis, and he began anew to work to defend and extend the faith that had yielded such rewards in his own life.

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