Benedict XVI received a particularly warm farewell from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), an NGO that usually keeps its distance from the Church and the clergy. After his death, PETA posted on its website that the pope always considered animals “creatures of God” and called for them to be cared for and saved from unnecessary suffering and pain. Benoît himself had adhered to these rules and had always loved cats.
Pope Benedict XVI, who died on December 31, 2022, once said of classical music that “it was born from the experience of love and sadness, from communion with death, from pain and from the abyss of human existence”, adding that “it is also born from an encounter with what is divine”. Indeed, music has always been part of his life, from his childhood in Upper Bavaria to his last days in Rome.
He relaxed with music, either listening to it or playing it himself. While John Paul II strolled during the holidays he spent at the papal residence in the Aosta Valley in the Alps, when Benedict XVI spent his holidays in the same place, he preferred to play the piano which had been specially installed there for him. His favorite pieces included works by Mozart as well as Beethoven, Bach and Schubert.
Pope Benedict, former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and before that little Joseph from the Bavarian town of Marktl, has always loved music. He also loved cats. Whenever there was a cat nearby, he always noticed it – and that, as readers well know, is the unmistakable mark of a sworn lover of such animals. “Pope Benedict was definitely a cat-man, not a dog-man,” said Rudolf Hofbauer, Joseph Ratzinge’s neighbor in the town of Pentling, near Regensburg. Italian journalist Jeanne Perego even wrote a children’s book called “Le chat et son pape” told by the pope’s red cat, Chico.
The pope also loved Latin. He considered the language of the Romans and the Church as the binder of civilization and strove to save it for the world and posterity. Did he succeed? In the Church, his efforts were soon undermined by his successor Pope Francis, who was to, among other things, repeal his predecessor’s decision on the possibility of celebrating Mass in Latin without special permission. The world of mass culture and social media did not quite understand what Benedict XVI was aiming at.
Finally, Pope Benedict also loved Bavaria. Supposedly, he wanted to spend the last years of his life in his native country. However, this did not happen.
Music leads to God
Music has always been part of his life. “During the holidays, in our parish of Traunstein, Mozart’s mass resounded [probably the Coronation Mass that was Pope Benedict’s favorite piece]. I, a little boy from the provinces, felt that the gates of heaven were opening. At the altar, the smoke of the incense rose in columns, through which the rays of the sun broke. (…) And from the back of the church, from the choir, flowed music that could only come from heaven; music in which angels rejoicing in the beauty of God have revealed themselves to us. Even now, when I listen to Mozart, I still have those feelings.”
Thus, years later, Joseph Ratzinger will describe his first meeting with Wolfgang Amadeus, whom he will subsequently place at the forefront of his musical preferences. Right behind Mozart, or rather right next to him, came Johann Sebastian Bach.
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Translated by Agnieszka Rakoczy