Benedict XVI Benedict XVI 

Benedict XVI's last words: "Lord, I love you!"

Archbishop Gänswein recounts Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's last words spoken during the night several hours before he died. It was precisely his seeking Jesus, "the beloved", that was the distinguishing hallmark of Joseph Ratzinger's priestly service, as Pope Francis himself recalled in 2016.

By Andrea Tornielli

The last words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI were heard in the middle of the night by a nurse. It was around 3 in the morning of 31 December, several hours before he died. Joseph Ratzinger had not yet entered his final moments, and at that time his collaborators and assistants were alternating in his care. With him at that precise moment there was only one nurse who does not speak German. "Benedict XVI," his secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, recounts emotionally, "with just a whisper of a voice, but in a clearly distinguishable manner, said in Italian: 'Lord, I love you!' I was not there at the moment, but the nurse told me about it shortly afterwards. These were his last comprehensible words, because afterwards he was no longer able to express himself."

"Lord, I love you!", are words that are like a synthesis of the life of Joseph Ratzinger, who for years now had been preparing for his final, face-to-face encounter with his creator. On 28 June 2016, on the 65th anniversary of the priestly ordination of his then emeritus predecessor, Pope Francis wanted to emphasise the "underlying characteristic" that marked the long history of Joseph Ratzinger's priesthood. Pope Francis said: "In one of the many beautiful passages you have written on the priesthood, you emphasize that, at the hour of Simon’s definitive call, Jesus, fixing his gaze on him, essentially asks only one thing: 'Do you love me?'. How beautiful and true this is! Because it is here, as you go on to tell us, in that 'Do you love me?', that the Lord establishes the true meaning of shepherding, because only through love for the Lord will the Lord be able to shepherd through us: 'Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you'".

"This is the characteristic," Pope Francis continued, "that has predominated your entire life spent in priestly service and in the service of theology, which you defined, not by happenstance, as the 'search for the beloved'; and this is indeed what you have always given witness to and continue to witness to today: that the decisive thing that frames each of our days — come rain or come shine — that which gives rise to everything else, is that the Lord is truly present, that we desire him, that we are close to him interiorly, that we love him, that we really believe in him and, believing in him, truly love him. It is this loving that truly fills our hearts, this believing that allows us to walk confidently and peacefully upon the waters, even in the midst of a storm, as Peter did."

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01 January 2023, 20:02