I had the blessing to be in Italy in August of 2005 for a vacation which had already been planned with some friends of mine before I was appointed Bishop of Fort Worth. I returned later in September for the “New Bishops” days of reflection, education and prayer in September. On both of those occasions, the excitement and welcome and love for Pope Benedict XVI already evident! I was in the courtyard of the Papal villa at Castelgandolfo waiting for his appearance at noon, when the crowds were chanting “BENEDETTO, BENEDETTO”. When he appeared at his window the cheering and warmth was clearly evident.
The following month of September I met him at an audience for the course for new Bishops. When he spoke to those of us newly appointed Bishops who were assembled, he quipped that “Maybe there should be a course for new popes” as well! On that occasion, when I said that I was the new Bishop of Fort Worth Texas, his instant reply was “ Texas…Muchos Hispanos”! That is, “many Hispanics” which shows to me his instant recognition of the life of the Church world wide. On another occasion, I presented him with a little question and answer book that I had written on the Sacrament of Marriage for Basilica Press in Irving, Texas. He thanked me, and said that “This is very important today.”
And, lastly, my experience this past March during the Region X “Ad Limina” visit, with the Bishops of the Province of San Antonio was a fraternal dialogue among brothers, with the added blessing of a sense of a professor with his students. He welcomed us to our meeting with the words “You are in the house of Peter, and this is your home..I would like to know about your Dioceses and your Province. With that each of us took a theme of pastoral ministry in the Province of San Antonio.
The Faith, prayerfulness, and humility of the man is the very same that I experienced on the times when I would be a St. Peter’s Basilica in the morning during my years in Rome and see him walking across the Piazza in a plain black cassock on the way to his office in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As a canonist in recent years, I also knew of the work of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith , which took over all of the processing of cases involving “canonical delicts” , that a more consistent and timely approach be given to these very difficult and often times tragic and sorrowful matters.
Given the “measure of the man” and from what I had seen and observed, I was surprised at this decision to leave the Office of the Bishop of Rome, but yet not surprised. Above all, we thank him for his consistent recalling out to us of that fundamental relationship with Jesus Christ, both as individuals and as the entire Church. His three books Jesus of Nazareth are a witness to that, among many other writings, have done that for so many.
God bless you Holy Father, “Benedetto”, and you have the prayers, love and support of so many here and beyond. Ad Multos Annos!