We reported last week on the death of Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Germany, Archbishop Emeritus of Cologne and one of the four so-called “dubia cardinals”. Dr. Maike Hickson also shared a touching memorial of Meisner, who by all accounts was beloved by all who knew him. In a report on the German cardinal written last year, Hickson also noted his closeness to Pope Benedict XVI, and his role in the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the office of the papacy in 2005, in opposition to the wishes of the so-called “Sankt Gallen Mafia,” who were reported to have desired the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio at that time.
Today, Saturday, July 15, 2017, the funeral Mass for Cardinal Meisner was offered in Cologne Cathedral. Pope Francis, who was not present, had a message read to those gathered by the Apostolic Nuncio to Germany, Archbishop Nikola Eterović. Then, in what has been characterized as a surprise — particularly considering his usual silence on matters facing the Church — a message from the Pope Emeritus himself was read by his Personal Secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who also serves as Prefect of the Papal Household for Pope Francis.
When one reads the following message — particularly that moment where the Pope Emeritus speaks of how Meisner “learned to let go and to live out of a deep conviction that the Lord does not abandon His Church, even if the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing,” one cannot help but see in it a possible reflection on his own choice to step away from the papacy, and the crisis that even now engulfs the Church in his absence. This message, of course, of the Lord not abandoning His Church, cannot be read in isolation from the somewhat cryptic message the Pope Emeritus gave the five new cardinals at the ordinary public consistory last month: “The Lord wins in the end.” It would appear this is a theme very much on the mind of the former pontiff in recent days.
Below we provide the full text of Pope Benedict’s message on the occasion of the funeral of Cardinal Joachim Meisner, graciously translated by 1P5’s Matthew Karmel.
Vatican City 11. 7. 2017
At this hour, as the faithful of the church of Cologne and far beyond bid Cardinal Joachim Meisner farewell, my heart and my thoughts are with you, and I am pleased to fulfill Cardinal Woelki’s request to address a word of remembrance to you.
As I learned last Wednesday via telephone of the death of Cardinal Meisner, I initially couldn’t believe it. We had spoken on the telephone to one another just the day before. Gratefulness for finally being able to begin his vacation after having participated in the beatification ceremony of Bishop Teofilius Matulionis in Vilnius on the previous Sunday (25th June) was audible in his voice. Love for the churches in the neighboring countries to the East, which suffered under Communist persecution, as well as an appreciation for their holding fast amidst the suffering of those times made a lifelong impression upon him. And, thus, it is no coincidence that the last visitation of his life was paid in respect to a Confessor of the Faith from those lands.
What particularly impressed me from my last conversations with the now passed Cardinal was the relaxed cheerfulness, the inner joy and the confidence at which he had arrived. We know that this passionate shepherd and pastor found it difficult to leave his post, especially at a time in which the Church stands in particularly pressing need of convincing shepherds who can resist the dictatorship of the spirit of the age and who live and think the faith with determination. However, what moved me all the more was that, in this last period of his life, he learned to let go and to live out of a deep conviction that the Lord does not abandon His Church, even if the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing.
Of late, two things caused him to become ever more joyful and confident:
For one, he repeatedly related to me how it filled him with profound delight to see how young people, especially young men, experienced the grace of forgiveness in the Sacrament of Confession – the gift of having truly found that life which only God can give them.
The other thing which always touched him anew and put him in a joyful mood was the quiet spread of Eucharistic Adoration. At World Youth Day in Cologne, this was a central concern of his: that there be Adoration – a silence in which only the Lord speaks to the heart. Some experts in pastoral work and liturgy were of the opinion that such silence in contemplation of the Lord could not be achieved with such a large number of people. A few even considered Eucharistic Adoration as such to be obsolete, as the Lord desires to be received in the Eucharistic Bread, and not examined. That, however, one cannot eat this Bread like some common aliment, and that to “receive” the Lord in the Eucharistic Sacrament makes demands upon every dimension of our existence – that to receive must be to adore – has since become once again very clear. Thus, the interlude of the Eucharistic Adoration at the Cologne World Youth Day became an interior event which remained, not only for the Cardinal, unforgettable. This moment remained ever present, like a great light, within him.
When, on his last morning, Cardinal Meisner didn’t appear to Mass, he was found dead in his room. His breviary had slipped from his hands: he died praying, looking to the Lord, speaking with the Lord. The manner of death which was granted to him shows once again how he lived: looking to the Lord and speaking with the Lord. Therefore, we may with confidence recommend his soul to the benevolence of God. Lord, we thank Thee for the witness of Thy servant Joachim. May he be an intercessor for the church of Cologne and for the whole world! Requiescat in pace!
(Signed Benedict XVI)
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.