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Interview with Father Augustine Di Noia

ROME, MAY 16, 2005 (Zenit) - Benedict XVI is a person of great inner tranquility, intensely dedicated to his work for the Church, and very "tradition-minded," said a close collaborator.

So as to get to know the reality of the man behind the image portrayed at times by the media, we interviewed Father Augustine Di Noia, undersecretary for the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, who worked with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when the latter was prefect of the congregation.

Father Di Noia described their working relationship as a "smooth operating team," due to the Holy Father's keen listening skills.

The Dominican priest said that after having worked directly with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for the last three years, he has always been impressed by the example of work ethic that he sets: "It's certainly true that he is a person of intense dedication. He puts in a full day of work every day -- not only when he was here in the office but also via a remarkable number of publications, presentations, lectures, panel discussions.

"It's quite noteworthy to consider even the enormous amount of correspondence he received, of course with the help of secretaries. So he's a person of real dedication, discipline, focus and has that academic element in the sense of man who thinks and writes a lot, but is willing to share his knowledge with anyone who's willing to listen or talk with him as he's quite the conversationalist too."

Benedict XVI has even sacrificed many of his personal interests to work entirely for the Church and faith, said Father Di Noia.

"There is a willingness to make sacrifices in the sense that, naturally I presume, he would have been perfectly happy doing what he was doing before -- that is as archbishop of Munich, living in Germany and serving the Church there -- when John Paul II sent for him to come to the Roman Curia," he said.

Laughing, he added: "I suppose every Catholic, every religious or priest is trained to say 'yes' first, and think about the consequences later.

"This was the case with him -- Peter called and he came, leaving behind his life in Germany, family, friends and culture for more than 22 years. And now, of course, he will never permanently return again."

Yet, Father Di Noia pointed out, he has embraced Rome, just as it is evident that Rome, via welcoming posters around town and excited applause throughout his installation ceremony as their bishop, has clearly embraced him.

"I can't tell you how many ordinary people I've met on the street," said the undersecretary, "who tell me how happy they are at the 'obvious choice' of leader that was chosen. So it's been nice to see that support from Rome."

Regarding the spirituality of the new Pope, his co-worker said: "One of the things which is evident from working with him, that will now become evident to the whole world, is that he's a person of tremendous inner tranquillity.

"You sense, immediately in his presence, a person who, as the old spiritual writers used to say is 'recollected.' That is to say, he's not thrown into a kind of panic by anything, I mean, he's just a calm (and therefore one supposes), deeply spiritual person. Usually that's a sign of an inner life and a person who is in communion with God.

"He has written a great deal about his own spirituality and the kinds of things that he recommends to others. It's clearly a deeply liturgical spirituality.

"What I mean by that is that the liturgical year, the seasons, the great feasts, are integrated into the experience of the spirit. So it's not a kind of spirituality that is purely private, if you will, but one that feeds on the liturgical year."

Father Di Noia offered an example: "He would always leave for his yearly retreat between Ascension and Pentecost -- in fact, he would be gone now on retreat in this period. He liked to celebrate the retreat in the period in which Christ is promising the coming of the Holy Spirit. If you pay attention to the liturgy every day, we have those kinds of texts, so that's, I would say, deeply patristic; that is rooted in the fathers of the Church, especially St. Augustine. It's a rich, ecclesial spirituality."

He also added that the Pope who chose the name Benedict XVI also has a "deep kind of love for St. Benedict" and the Benedictines, with whom "he enjoys being with."

"St. Benedict pointed out that his monks, in addition to praying the hours of the liturgy, also work. This is not a kind of spirituality that doesn't get its hands dirty. This is a man who works and does everything he does in the name of Jesus Christ," said Father Di Noia.

According to the former prelate's undersecretary, these components will be communicated "because naturally a person who has a deep spirituality will want to communicate it to others, although as Pope now he'll also have to allow for the attraction of many other kinds of spirituality which might not have attracted him before."

Then, pointing up to a picture of St. Thérčse of Lisieux hanging in his office, Father Di Noia revealed the new Pope's special devotion to her: "I know also, that he is very much attracted by the 'way' of the 'little flower,' and was instrumental in her becoming a doctor of the Church as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."

Though the Church might speak of faith and spirituality, the reality is that secular standards tend to judge in absolute terms of "conservative" or "liberal," value judgements that exasperate the Dominican priest when applied to Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI.

He said: "There is a natural desire on the part of people to try to classify a little bit, in order to figure out who a person is.

"However, I think the best way of describing Benedict XVI is that he is a 'tradition-minded person.' That is to say, he's a person, independent of his now being Pope, who saw the Second Vatican Council as the recovery of the deepest identity of the Catholic tradition, going back all the way to the scriptures, the fathers of the Church and the liturgy, which was the driving passion behind most of the great figures of that council."

Father Di Noia continued: "The view of many of those great fathers of the council, and the theologians too -- Von Balthasar, Congar, you can mention many names -- was that once the tradition is exhibited like a great painting or work of art, it doesn't need explanation. Once it's presented, people see it and love it. This was certainly what John Paul II believed -- the face of Christ is beautiful and people will be drawn to it.

"And Cardinal Ratzinger is absolutely a man of the inspiration of the council, and of what I would call 'tradition-mindedness.' It is certainly true that there were other people at the council who interpreted it as merely a matter of 'aggiornamento,' or catching up with the times, but for someone like Cardinal Ratzinger, and we've talked about this in light of his writings on the subject, 'aggiornamento' on its own is always seeking to accommodate itself to the times. In other words it is, as a concept, empty. It adjusts itself to whatever the norm is.

"Now, progressives or liberals could seem to have embraced primarily the agenda of updating, but not necessarily the heart of the council, which was 'ressourcement,' or the recovery of tradition."

Father Di Noia went on to say that all this, however, is entirely independent of the fact that the man is now Pope.

He said: "you see this in the deep confusion and the comments made over the last weeks such as 'what policies will he embrace' or 'I don't care for his policies, they're too conservative.' It's as if we were talking about the transition of a U.S. presidency."

The Dominican father said that in reality it's a larger and much more diverse role than that of a head of state: "The Pope is more bound to be faithful to the tradition than any of us are, in the sense that he is its articulator.

"He is the Successor of Peter, so just as Peter received the Gospel and message of salvation from Our Lord, so does his successor.

"Thus these labels which were also applied to past Popes, though well-meant, are simply confusing and confuse those who hear them. It's a question of being faithful to the gift of love and truth which we have received from Christ, and which the Pope, as Successor of Peter, is obligated by vow and profession, to pass on."

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Pope, Benedict, Di Noia, Worker, Church, Man, Ratzinger

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