Kerala mourns the demise of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who gave India its first saintess

Kerala joins all the faithful around the world in mourning the passing of the Pope Emeritus, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said.

BySreerag PS

Published Dec 31, 2022 | 9:55 PM Updated Dec 31, 2022 | 10:16 PM

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, who passed away in the Vatican was dear to Kerala even though he had never visited the state.

The news of the demise of the 95-year-old former Supreme Pontiff — the first Pope to resign in 600 years — drowned the Catholic community in grief.

Christians comprise 18.38 percent of the state’s population of 3.46 crore. Catholics constitute 61 percent of the Christian population.

India got its first saintess during the tenure of Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 when he canonised Sister Alphonsa — known as Alphosamma in Kerala  — in 2008.

St Alphonsa, born at Kudamalloor near Kottayam, was a nun belonging to the Syro Malabar Church, one of 23 “Oriental” or “Eastern” churches in full communion with the Catholic Church.

Churches to toll bells

Head of Syro Malabar Church Major Archbishop George Alencherry directed all parishes under his command to toll bells in churches and Christian establishments.

Incidentally, Pope Benedict XVI made Alencherry a Cardinal on 18 February 2012.

Fr Jacob Plackappilli, Deputy General Secretary and spokesperson of Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC) recalled Pope Benedict XVI as a theologist and preacher to whom the world looked up to.

“His preaching took believers further closer to Jesus Christ. He emphasised the values of Christianity in a way that even when there were allegations of sexual misconduct against the Church, he interfered and acted against the guilty,” Fr Plackappilli told South First.

He also opined that on matters like population control and homosexuality, the former Pope followed the traditional visions of Christianity.

The KCBC, a permanent association of Catholic bishops in Kerala, will mourn the demise of the late Pope from January 1 to 5. The council directed priests and other organisations concerned to conduct functions already scheduled “in the most simple manner”.

Kerala joins all faithful in mourning

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan led Kerala in mourning the demise of Pope Emeritus.

“It is with immense grief that we receive the sad news of the passing of the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI. Kerala joins all the faithful around the world in mourning the passing of Pope Emeritus,” Vijayan said in a tweet.

Leader of Opposition in the State Assembly VD Satheesan said the death was a great loss to not only Christians but to the whole world.

In a Facebook post, he said Benedict was a great theologian, scholar and a good shepherd who led believers to progressive ideas.

Senior Left leaders and ministers Antony Raju and Roshy Augustine also expressed grief.

While Raju, on his Facebook page, condoled the death, Augustine said he was pained to hear the tragic news.

“He was the first Pope to abdicate his post in the history of the church [sic] and his life will continue to shine a light on the world and the Church. Let us pray for the peace of his soul,” Augustine said.

First Pope to resign in 600 years

Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI died at 9:34 am on Saturday at his residence at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican.

“With sorrow I inform you that the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, passed away today at 9:34 in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican,” Matteo Bruni, Director of the Holy See Press Office of the Roman Curia, said in a statement.

Bruni said the Pope Emeritus on Wednesday, 28 December afternoon, received the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick in the monastery at the end of Holy Mass.

Born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger in Bavaria, Germany, on 16 April 1927, Benedict XVI was the first Pope to resign in 600 years — after Gregory XII was forced to resign on 4 July 1415 to end Western Schism.

Western Schism or Great Schism or Great Western Schism is the period from 1378 to 1417 when there were two — and later three — rival popes, each with their own followers, cardinals, and administrative offices.

Pope Benedict XVI, ordained on 29 June 1951, cited a “lack of strength of mind and body” due to his advanced age as the reason to step down.

He took charge of the papacy on 19 April 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II.

Pope Francis will preside over the funeral of the Pope Emeritus on Thursday, 5 January at 9.30 Central European Time (2 pm, Indian time) in St Peter’s Square, Bruni told reporters in the Vatican.

Incidentally, John Paul II was the only Pope to visit Kerala. He arrived at Kochi on 7 February 1986 on a two-day visit to beatify Sr Alphonsa and Fr Kuriakose Elias Chavara. He left the next day from Thiruvananthapuram.