By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service Rome Bureau
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Retired Pope Benedict XVI's final message to Catholics around the world was, "Stand firm in the faith! Do not let yourselves be confused!"
Less than 10 hours after informing the world that the 95-year-old pope had died Dec. 31, the Vatican press office released his spiritual testament, a statement of faith and of thanksgiving.
Unlike St. John Paul II's spiritual testament, Pope Benedict's included no instructions for his funeral or burial, and made no mention of what should happen to his belongings.
"To all those whom I have wronged in any way, I ask forgiveness from my heart," Pope Benedict wrote.
Written in German and dated Aug. 29, 2006 – in the second year of his almost eight-year pontificate – Pope Benedict wrote with great affection of his parents, his sister and his brother; the beauty of Bavaria; and his faith in God.
"If at this late hour of my life I look back over the decades I have been living, I first see how many reasons I have to give thanks," he wrote in the document when he was 79 years old.
"First of all, I thank God himself, the giver of every good gift, who gave me life and guided me through various moments of confusion; always picking me up whenever I began to slip and always giving me the light of his countenance again," he said. "In retrospect I see and understand that even the dark and tiring stretches of this path were for my salvation and that it was in them that he guided me well."
Born in 1927, Joseph Ratzinger was raised in a Germany struggling to recover from World War I; Adolf Hitler came to power when the future pope was only 7.
In his testament, he offered thanks to his parents, "who gave me life in a difficult time and who, at the cost of great sacrifices, with their love prepared a magnificent home that like a clear light still enlightens my days.
"My father's lucid faith taught us children to believe, and as a signpost it has always stood firm in the midst of all my academic achievements," he said. "My mother's profound devotion and great goodness are a legacy for which I cannot thank her enough."
Pope Benedict thanked God for the many friends, both men and women, he had by his side, and for his teachers and students – many of whom he continued to meet with late in his life.
A pope known for his concern for the environment, he thanked God for the beauty of his Bavarian homeland, "in which I always saw the splendor of the Creator himself shining through.
"I pray that our land remains a land of faith," he wrote before pleading with his fellow Germans to let nothing draw them from the faith.
"And, finally," he wrote, "I thank God for all the beauty I experienced at every stage of my journey, especially in Rome and in Italy, which became my second homeland."
Addressing the whole church, Pope Benedict urged Catholics to hold fast to their faith and to not let science or research shake the foundations of their belief.
"It often seems as if science – the natural sciences on the one hand and historical research, like the exegesis of Sacred Scripture, on the other – are able to offer irrefutable results at odds with the Catholic faith," he said.
But he assured those reading the document that throughout his life he had seen science offer "apparent certainties against the faith" only to see them vanish, "proving not to be science, but philosophical interpretations only apparently pertaining to science."
At the same time, he said, "it is in dialogue with the natural sciences that faith too has learned to better understand the limit of the scope of its claims, and thus its specificity."
In 60 years of theological study and observation, he said, he had seen "unshakable" theses collapse, including those offered by the "Marxist generation" of theologians.
"The reasonableness of faith has emerged and is emerging again," he wrote. "Jesus Christ is truly the way, the truth and the life -- and the church, with all its inadequacies, is truly his body."
In the end, Pope Benedict wrote, "I humbly ask: pray for me, so that the Lord, despite all my sins and inadequacies, may receive me into his eternal dwelling."