“We hear a great deal of talk about ‘servant leadership’ from all sorts of prelates and ecclesiastical grandees,” said Christopher Wells – an old Vatican hand and a dear friend of many years – in a conversation not too long ago, “Joseph Ratzinger – Benedict XVI – exemplified it.”
I don’t think I could so much as cavil that assessment, even did I have world enough and time to satisfy the absent desire.
There will be plenty of time for frank and probing assessment of his leadership record. That will be hard work, painful and necessary. Benedict knew he could not escape the judgment of God. He was also sensible of the judgment of history. For now, I have three distinct personal recollections of Benedict XVI, which I hope will illustrate and inform my friend’s appraisal of the man who exchanged time for eternity in the small hours of Saturday morning.
One was from early in Benedict XVI’s pontificate. I’ve been racking my brain and reviewing a good bit of “tape” to nail down the precise occasion. My best guess is that it was the visit he made on December 18th, 2005, to the parish that had been his first “titular” church in Rome, Santa Maria Consolatrice. That was, if memory serves, my very first time doing a “solo” commentary live to air for Vatican Radio.
When it came time to deliver the homily, Benedict relied on the pages his handlers had passed to him for the greetings and salutations, then put them aside and delivered a perfectly organized extemporaneous exegesis of the Greek salutation, Χαῖρε! – frequently and by no means incorrectly translated as “Hail!” but more closely meaning “Rejoice!” – with which the angel Gabriel greeted Our Lady.Benedict XVI exemplified servant leadership – Catholic World Report