By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – As an expression of ongoing affection and gratitude for the late Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis led tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square in a round of applause for his predecessor on the first anniversary of his death.
"A year ago, Pope Benedict XVI concluded his earthly journey after having served the church with love and wisdom," Pope Francis told an estimated 20,000 people gathered in the square for the midday recitation of the Angelus prayer Dec. 31.
Pope Benedict, who led the church from 2005 to 2013, died Dec. 31, 2022, at the age of 95.
"We feel so much affection, gratitude and admiration for him," the pope said. "From heaven, he blesses and accompanies us."
Before the Angelus, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Pope Benedict's former personal secretary, presided over a memorial Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter's Basilica. German Cardinal Gerhard Müller and Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, concelebrated the liturgy.
In his homily, the archbishop shared some of Pope Benedict's meditations on the readings for the day's feast, the feast of the Holy Family. Several times his voice broke with emotion remembering the pope he lived with and served.
Looking at how prayer was an essential part of the life of Mary and Joseph, Archbishop Gänswein quoted Pope Benedict's last Angelus address, just days before his resignation went into effect, when he explained:
"The Lord is calling me 'to scale the mountain,' to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the church; indeed, if God asks me this it is precisely so that I may continue to serve her with the same dedication and the same love with which I have tried to do so until now, but in a way more suited to my age and strength."
In the same way, the archbishop said, prayer marks the rhythm of the life of the church, "which is the great family of God."
As the retired pope aged, he said, his life – with a growing intensity and interiority – became more focused on prayer.
Born Joseph Ratzinger, he tried to model his life on St. Joseph, the archbishop said. It could be seen in his intimacy with the Lord and with the people around him, "relationships distinguished by great courtesy, humility and simplicity."