Pope Benedict XVI
Born: April 16, 1927
Birthplace: Marktl am Inn, Germany
Original name: Joseph Ratzinger
Elected pope: April 19, 2005
Only three days after his 78th birthday, Joseph Ratzinger was named as the successor to Pope John Paul II -- making him the oldest Pope at the time of his election in more than 250 years. During his first mass as Pope, Benedict XVI declared that he wants to work toward unifying all Christians. He also stated that he wants to continue an "open and sincere dialogue" with other religions.
Reportedly, Ratzinger took on the name "Benedict" in honor of the last Pope Benedict (Benedict XV, an Italian, served as Pope from 1914 to 1922).
An accomplished linguist much like his predecessor John Paul II (who spoke eight languages), Benedict XVI speaks 10 languages.
- 1944 - Drafted into the Austrian Legion
- 1944 - Entered into basic training of German infantry; deserted German army
- 1951 - Ordained into the priesthood
- 1953 - Earned doctorate in theology from the University of Munich
- 1969 - Accepted teaching position at the University of Regensburg (where he later earned the positions of Dean and Vice President)
- 1977 - Named archbishop of Munich and Freising; declared cardinal of Munich by Pope Paul VI
- 1981 - Became Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
- 2005 - Named successor to Pope John Paul II, takes name Pope Benedict XVI
- 2013 - Announced resignation
The Passing of a Pontiff
When a pope dies, the non-theological authority of the papacy passes temporarily to the Cardinal Camerlengo, or chamberlain, who is the Vatican's Secretary of State. Camerlengo has many responsibilities when the pope dies. First, he confirms the pope's death by calling the pope's name three times without response. He then authorizes the pope's death certificate, and closes and locks the pope's private apartment in the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican. The Camerlengo also organizes and presides over the election of the next pope.
At the time of death, the Camerlengo removes the Ring of the Fisherman, which the pope receives from the Camerlengo upon his election. Popes have worn the Ring of the Fisherman for over 800 years, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia. The gold ring includes an image of St. Peter in a boat, fishing, encircled by the name of the current pope. It and the pope's seals are destroyed during the Camerlengo's first meeting with the Cardinals following the pope's death.
The pope's body lies in repose for nine consecutive days, during which time the Cardinals of the Catholic Church celebrate the funeral rites. No one is allowed to photograph or film the pope while he is on his sickbed or after his death. The Cardinal Camerlengo may permit post-mortem photographs for documentary purposes only after the pope is attired in his pontifical vestments.
Prior to burial, the pope's body is placed inside a coffin that is encased in two others. The coffins are made of cypress, elm, and lead. The pope is typically buried in the tombs below St. Peter's Basilica, where St. Peter is buried.
During the time between the pope's death and the election of a new pope, the world focuses on the tiny sovereignty of Vatican City. In the next section, we will examine the complex process by which a pope is elected.