The Catholic Archbishop of Denver Samuel J. Aquila remembers his encounters with Pope Benedict XVI. He said that the late pontiff always had serenity, peace, and joy about him.
“No matter what trials he may be going through, he always had that joy that Christ speaks of in the Gospel that no one can take away from you — and it was precisely his deep love for Jesus Christ,” Aquila said during a mass celebrating the life of Benedict at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver Thursday.
The celebration ended a nine-day mourning period among Catholics for the late pope emeritus, who passed away at the age of 95 on New Year’s Eve. The first requiem Mass at the Denver basilica was held on the same day the Vatican held Benedict's funeral. That Mass was led by Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodríguez.
Benedict was born Joseph Ratzinger in Germany in 1927. He was ordained a priest in 1951. Pope Paul VI proclaimed him a Cardinal in 1981. In 2002, he became Dean of the College of Cardinals in 2002.
Aquila was bishop of the Diocese of Fargo, North Dakota, when Benedict rose to Pope following the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005. Aquila and a group of bishops from North Dakota and South Dakota met with then-Cardinal Ratzinger. Ratzinger complimented Aquila for how he reordered what sacraments children get in the Catholic Church — what those in the Church call the “restored order.”
“I had restored them and he wanted to talk about that,” Aquila said. “And then unbeknownst to me, he said, ‘I really appreciate what you did because I see the importance of having the sacraments in that order and fully support what you did.’”
That conversation went a long way: Benedict appointed Aquila to Archbishop of Denver in 2012. Aquila had served the Archdiocese of Denver as a priest for 25 years prior to his appointment as bishop to Fargo.
A year after appointing Aquila to Denver as archbishop, Benedict shocked the Catholic world when he resigned from the papacy in 2013. It was the first voluntary papal resignation since Celestine V in 1294. Benedict cited health and old age as his reasons. After his resignation, he was flown by helicopter to the papal summer retreat in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome. There, he spent the first months of his retirement before living out the rest of his life in a converted monastery in the Vatican gardens.
Aquila said he didn’t keep in contact with Benedict after he retired. But, Aquila said he knew Benedict’s health was declining.
“We would hear periodically that he was getting weaker physically and sleeping a lot more … that type of thing. And so, he was blessed with a very long life,” Aquila said. “And, 95 years for anyone is a long life.”
Many opinions remain mixed on Benedict’s brief tenure as Pope. Aquila wants Benedict’s legacy to be remembered as a great writer and theologian.
“He was really known for his theology, how astute he was and also how he could help people understand finer points of theology,” Aquila said. “He was always a very peaceful, gentle human being.”
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