50 Facts about Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI is one of the most important figures of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Here are 50 key facts to know about this German pope.

benedict xvi facts
Pope Benedict XVI on a bench

Benedict’s family

1. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s birth name is Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger.

2. Joseph Ratzinger was born on 16 April 1927 in the German town of Marktl, Bavaria.

3. His parents are Joseph Ratzinger Sr, who was a policeman, and Maria Ratzinger.

4. Joseph is the youngest of three children. His brother, Georg Ratzinger, is a retired priest, and his sister, Maria Ratzinger, was a housekeeper.

World War 2

5. Following his 14th birthday in 1941, Joseph was conscripted into the Hitler Youth, as membership was required by law for all 14-year-old German boys after March 1939.

6. One of his cousins, a 14-year-old boy with Down syndrome, was taken away by the Nazis and murdered during their eugenics programme.

7. In 1943, while still in seminary, Joseph was drafted into the German anti-aircraft corps as Luftwaffenhelfer.

8. In 1945, he deserted back to his family’s home in Traunstein after his unit had ceased to exist, just as American troops established a headquarters in the Ratzinger household.

9. As a German soldier, he was interned in a prisoner of war camp, but released a few months later at the end of the war in May 1945.

Ordination and study

10. Joseph and his brother Georg entered Saint Michael Seminary in Traunstein in 1945.

11. Ratzinger was ordained a priest in 1951 in Freising, Bavaria.

12. In 1953, he obtained a doctorate in theology with the dissertation, “The People and House of God in St. Augustine‘s Doctrine of the Church”.

Academic career

13. Joseph Ratzinger became a professor at the University of Bonn in 1959. His inaugural lecture was on “The God of Faith and the God of Philosophy”.

14. In 1963, he moved to the University of Münster.

15. In 1966, Ratzinger was appointed to a chair in dogmatic theology at the University of Tübingen.

16. In 1969, he returned to Bavaria, to the University of Regensburg, and became its Vice President from 1976 to 1977.

Rising the Church ranks

17. On 24 March 1977, Ratzinger was appointed Archbishop of Munich and Freising.

18. Later that year, on 27 June 1977, Pope Paul VI elevated him to Cardinal.

19. In 1981, he was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Elected Pope Benedict XVI

20. Benedict XVI was elected Pope on 19 April 2005, becoming the 265th pope.

21. Saint John Paul II was Benedict’s predecessor and Pope Francis is his successor.

22. Pope Benedict XVI was the oldest person to be elected pope since 1730.

23. Around the time of the election, Benedict said that he’d hoped he wasn’t going to be elected, saying, “At a certain point, I prayed to God ‘please don’t do this to me’. Evidently, this time He didn’t listen to me.”

24. He became the ninth German to be elected to the highest office in the Church.

25. Benedict and his Polish predecessor John Paul II were the first consecutive non-Italian popes since the seven consecutive Frenchmen of the Avignon Papacy (1309–78).

26. Pope Benedict’s first public words as pontiff were, “Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the Cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord. The fact that the Lord knows how to work and to act even with insufficient instruments comforts me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers. In the joy of the Risen Lord, confident of his unfailing help, let us move forward. The Lord will help us, and Mary, His Most Holy Mother, will be on our side. Thank you.”

The Benedict name

27. Ratzinger chose the pontifical name Benedict, which comes from the Latin word meaning “the blessed”, in honour of both Pope Benedict XV and Saint Benedict of Nursia.

28. Speaking on his choice of pontifical name, Benedict said, “Filled with sentiments of awe and thanksgiving, I wish to speak of why I chose the name Benedict. Firstly, I remember Pope Benedict XV, that courageous prophet of peace, who guided the Church through turbulent times of war. In his footsteps I place my ministry in the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples. Additionally, I recall Saint Benedict of Nursia, co-patron of Europe, whose life evokes the Christian roots of Europe. I ask him to help us all to hold firm to the centrality of Christ in our Christian life: May Christ always take first place in our thoughts and actions!”

Some papal moments

29. In September 2010, Pope Benedict visited the United Kingdom, where he beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman.

30. On 7 October 2012, Pope Benedict XVI named Hildegard of Bingen and John of Avila as Doctors of the Church.

Encyclicals

31. During his papacy, Benedict wrote three encyclicals: Deus caritas est (“God is Love”), Spe Salvi (“Saved by Hope”) and Caritas in veritate (“Love in Truth”).

32. At the time of his resignation, Benedict had completed a draft of a fourth encyclical entitled Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”).

Papal resignation

33. Benedict XVI’s papacy ended on 28 February 2013, when he became the first pope in 600 years to resign – the previous being Pope Gregory XII in 1415.

34. He said his resignation was due to a “lack of strength in the mind and body”.

35. Upon his resignation, Benedict decided to keep his papal name, but would now have the title “Pope Emeritus”.

36. Pope Benedict’s Fisherman’s Ring, of which a new one is created for each pope, is usually destroyed by Vatican officials on the death of a pope, but was returned to the Vatican.

Literature

37. To date, Benedict XVI was written 68 books, three encyclicals, and three apostolic exhortations.

38. Benedict XVI coined the term “dictatorship of relativism”, stating “Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of education is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which, recognising nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. And under the semblance of freedom it becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own ego.”

39. Pope Benedict was once asked which two books he would take with him to read on a deserted island. His answer was the Bible and Augustine’s Confessions.

40. There is an authorised biography of Pope Benedict XVI, based around the life of a real cat of his called Chico, titled “Joseph and Chico: The Life of Pope Benedict XVI as Told by a Cat“.

Music

41. Benedict is an accomplished pianist.

42. His favourite composer is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, saying “His music is by no means just entertainment; it contains the whole tragedy of human existence.”

43. Benedict’s favourite works of music are Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto and Clarinet Quintet.

44. He recorded an album of contemporary classical music in which he sings and recites prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

45. He released Alma Mater: Music from the Vatican to celebrate the 2009 Christmas season and to provide income for music programs for underprivileged children.

Other facts

46. Benedict XVI has a pilot’s license, and liked to fly from the Vatican to the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, but he doesn’t have a driver’s license as he never learned to drive a car.

47. Many people have talked about his debating skills and his desire to reach out to people who have different points of view about religious subjects.

48. He is also known to be fond of cats. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he was known (according to former neighbours) to look after stray cats in his neighbourhood.

49. Benedict XVI is fluent in German, English, Italian, French and Spanish, whilst also possessing knowledge of Portuguese and the ability to speak classical Latin.

50. He has German and Vatican citizenship.