His death comes almost 10 years after the late Pope Benedict XVI resigned.   Having always been a fairly close follower of the various popes in the more than 40 years of involvement in marriage and family ministry, in one way or another, I spent some time reflecting on his life and legacy from my particular perspective. 

Each Holy Father from Paul VI, to John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis has highlighted the importance of the family in the Church. It was in fact in the documents of Vatican II, in 1965, that the image of the family as the domestic church was brought back from the earliest years of the Church. It was the 1st African Synod in 1994 and Ecclesia in Africa that presented the image and model of The Church as God’s Family, in particular because of its relevance for Africa.  15 years later Pope Benedict called the 2nd African Synod in 2009 and the Apostolic Exhortation African’s Commitment/Africa Munus retained the image although the synod’s main theme was Reconciliation, Justice and Peace.  A long section developed this aspect in Chapter II, section II, Living in Harmony, while addressing the various areas of family life, including the elderly, men, women, young and children.   He wrote, “It is here that its  members acquire basic teachings.  They learn to love inasmuch as they are unconditionally loved. When ever these fundamental experiences are lacking, society as a whole suffers violence.” AM42  

Also of interest is Chapter II, Section III. The African Vision of life, which discusses, protection of life, respect for creation and the ecosystem, good governance, migrants, displaced persons and refugees.  Looking back from our 2023 vantage point it is enlightening that all these areas which are so prominent in the teaching of Pope Francis, are not new, something he does acknowledge.  Was Pope Benedict’s pontificate and his teaching overshadowed by the abuse crises, which have not yet been fully resolved?   In Africa was HIV/AIDS in the forefront of the Church’s mind and ministry at that time?    Was the image of the Church as God’s Family not as developed theologically and pastorally as fully as it could or should have been, for these and other reasons?  

Already in 2006, MARFAM’S Lenten programme Marriage and the Paschal Mystery  quoted from Pope Benedict’ encyclical Deus Caritas Est/God is Love.  “Marriage based on an exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa.  God’s way of loving, becomes the measure of human love.”  Deus Caritas Est 11.“  

This powerful image has been for me a legacy of the work of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI over these many years as I have incorporated it into many MARFAM publications. It is now, on going back over Africa Munus  that I have been reminded of his other statements, e.g.  in the section “The African Vision of Life” on care for creation, which Pope Francis also included in his encyclical on Laudato Si.   

On his deathbed Pope Benedict’s reported last words were, “I love you Lord,”  For all God’s people love is at the heart of our relationship with God.  At the same time I value the powerful expression that marriage is both the icon of God’s relationship with his people but also that God’s people are called to mirror God’s love to one another and others.  And, as the Church and the world have moved on,  in the light of today’s eco-family-friendly spirituality  I believe that human families are called to mirror God’s love to all of creation.  And vice versa. RIP POPE EMERITUS BENEDICT XVI.