The following comes from Zenit:
The Vatican rooms are impressive. As opposed to what happens in television studios, which in reality are smaller than they appear on the screen, here everything is larger: Saint Anne’s Door, the Apostolic Palace, the majestic stairway, Saint Damasus Courtyard. Historic magniloquence: some of its parts in fact are older than 500 years – splendid, but as opposed to what some continue to say, not ostentatious. In fact, I would say the opposite.
Archbishop Georg Gänswein received us in one of those rooms: not very large, red, luminous, ancient and elegant. One does not find in Archbishop Gänswein that haughtiness that one could expect from someone in his position, so close to two of the most influential persons in the world. He began to work with Cardinal Ratzinger in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1996, becoming his personal Secretary in 2003, a position that he kept at the election of the Cardinal to the Papal Seat. In 2012, he was appointed Prefect of the Papal Household and, with the new Pontificate, Francis confirmed him in that post. It was the year 2013, in fact in the month in which the intense heat paralyzed Rome, but not Pope Francis! It was August 31. Hence, Archbishop Gänswein is, to date, the only person in the history of the Church that serves two Popes contemporaneously. He lives with the German Pope: he concelebrates with him in the morning, they pray the Rosary together, and walk together for about a half hour in the Vatican Gardens. In the afternoon, instead, he works with the Argentine Pope.
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Q: How do you manage to collaborate with two Popes? It doesn’t seem easy to adapt oneself to two such different personalities ...
Archbishop Gänswein: They are certainly very different between them: and for me, after a long experience as Secretary of Cardinal Ratzinger, later Benedict XVI, to begin to work also with Pope Francis was not easy. Let’s say that, using media language, I had to “render myself compatible,” because it was quite an intense change. I had already received the office of Prefect, which Francis wished to reconfirm. What my collaborators and I do is to serve. And that is all. How is this done?
It depends much on the way the Pope guides the Church. However, I must say that there is a great advantage in all this: to live and work with two Popes, and to experience this diversity, has helped me and helps me to grow humanly and spiritually.
Q: Beyond the physical differences – the shoes, the cross, etc., it seems sometimes that there is a distance between the two also in what they say ...
Archbishop Gänswein: All the stories that we heard at the beginning of the Pontificate as, for instance, that he uses black shoes, or that the material of his pectoral cross is less than silver, are secondary: they are exterior things, ways of doing things. If one looks more closely at the contents, it will be seen that in exercising the munus petrinum there is continuity with Benedict XVI. And this is right. We are talking of a South American and a German, of two very different personalities. The first is educated and formed by the Jesuit spirituality, and it is logical that his way of thinking, of doing and also of exercising the Petrine service is different from one who had first of all an academic-university formation.
Q: Francis often reminds me of John Paul II ...
Archbishop Gänswein:: Yes, he can be so, even if they arrived at the See of Peter with twenty years of difference. Both had already accumulated enormous pastoral experience, although in a very different political and cultural context. Pope Francis, after having directed a large and not easy diocese such as that of Buenos Aires; Saint John Paul II at the head of the Church of Krakow that, at the time, was the only place where one could express oneself freely. I think we can compare them in this respect, but also in some aspects of their personality.
Archbishop Gänswein:: Francis, for instance, talks a lot about the “culture of encounter”: to meet persons, and to meet them as much as possible. John Paul II didn’t speak expressly of this culture, but he put it constantly into practice. It is contact with others, including physical contact, which is striking in the two Popes.
Q: Sometimes I’ve heard it said: “John Paul II is the Pope of Hope; Benedict XVI the Pope of Faith; Francis the Pope of Charity.” Although simple, do you think it’s a good analysis of the reality?
Archbishop Gänswein:: It’s difficult to summarize an entire Pontificate in a word. Every time one attempts to enclose something complex in a word one runs a risk. I would say that Pope Francis is the Pope of gestures, the Pope of Mercy. We are still on the way; in any case, after two years, I think that to describe him as “the Pope of gestures” will at least help to give an idea.
Q: Two years after his renunciation, what was Benedict referring to when speaking of his “earthly pilgrimage”?
Archbishop Gänswein:: In his last brief address at Castel Gandolfo, Benedict XVI spoke of the “last stage of the earthly pilgrimage.” And before he had said that he would not come down from the cross, that he would not leave the Lord. He goes up to the mountain to pray for the Church and for his Successor. His role now is spiritual: to pray for Peter’s barque. It’s important to remember that the Church is not governed only with decisions and strategies, but also and above all with prayer. The Church is a “team of prayer,” and we know well that, the more people pray the better it is. In this team the Pope Emeritus has a particular place of “pilgrim.”
Q: Some do not yet understand the renunciation and interpret it as a strategy to block some attempts to cause “great damages” ...
Archbishop Gänswein:: We could write a whole book of hypotheses and theories in this regard! On that February 11, Pope Benedict XVI read a brief and very clear statement explaining his reason. All the rest that has been said and hypothesized is altogether devoid of foundation. That there were individual persons, or even currents against Benedict, was irrelevant in regard to the renunciation. It’s obvious that a person like him had reflected long on a question of such importance. He didn’t allow himself to be intimidated by anyone. He was very clear in his conversation with Peter Seewald, several years before the renunciation: “When there are wolves, when there is danger, the shepherd must not leave his flock.” He didn’t do so then, and he has never done so; his was not a flight. This is the truth and it is the only explanation of the reason for his renunciation.
Q: On some occasions you have spoken of the “fruits” of this renunciation. What are these fruits?
Archbishop Gänswein:: Pope Benedict realized that to guide today’s Church it’s necessary to have spiritual strength but also physical strength. It was an act of very great humility to renounce the Papacy to make way for someone younger and stronger. I believe it’s a great example of love for the Lord and for the Church, an example that not all can or want to understand. Observing Pope Francis’ Pontificate, one can perceive how the image of the Church has changed for the better. Pope Benedict took the first step for the change: he opened the door to follow this path. I believe it could happen also in the future.