Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the oldest pope in history

Fr Leonard E Dollentas

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI celebrated his 95th birthday on April 16, 2022. He was born on Holy Saturday in 1927, in Marktl, Bavaria. He led the Catholic Church from 2005 to 2013 when he became the first pope in almost 600 years to resign.

According to the calculations of the Italian episcopal journal Avvenire and the magazine Famiglia Cristiana, Pope Benedict officially broke the previous longevity record held by Italian Leo XIII who died in 1903 at the age of 93 years.  His longevity status is challenged, however, by many, citing his retirement at the age of 86 in 2013 from the papacy, and therefore the inability to consider him a pope officially. Vatican experts also observe that the record could also be disputed because going back 1,400 years, the ages of previous popes may not always be completely accurate. After reading such challenges to the Pope Emeritus’ longevity record, a reader wrote: “It doesn’t matter to us simple faithful. What matters most to us are the many prayers and mortifications to help him keep in good health so that his continued presence will be a touchstone of steadfast intelligent fidelity and accountability to the Mother Church.”

After resigning from the papal office in 2013, Benedict XVI visited his native place Bavaria. In a few months, Benedict started suffering a painful case of shingles affecting the face, which worsened after the death of his elder brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger. The personal secretary of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Archbishop Georg Gänswein recalled how he held back his tears as the pope emeritus once told him about his journey toward heaven. Gänswein choked up again remembering Benedict XVI’s words, “I would never have believed that the last stretch of the journey that would take me from the Mater Ecclesiae monastery (where he currently resides) to the gates of heaven with St. Peter would be so long.” Since 2003, while Benedict XVI was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Archbishop Gänswein accompanied him as his personal secretary. Archbishop Gänswein is currently the prefect of the papal household. The German prelate said Benedict XVI made the comment to him “a few years ago” while they were talking about “the burden and hardship of old age and the criticism of his person and his work that flares up again and again.” Benedict’s voice, he said, “is becoming increasingly low and incomprehensible,” noting that “the last few years have sapped his strength.” Through it all, he continued, “he has preserved the humble serenity of his heart.”

(Photo: Courtesy of Vatican News)