Card Gracias: Ratzinger provided great support for the Churches of Asia
by Nirmala Carvalho

The archbishop of Bombay remembers the pope emeritus, who made him cardinal. Indian Archbishop Felix Machado, who worked in the Vatican for 15 years at the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, looks at the very tense days of the Regensburg address. Benedict XVI’s “message had nothing to do with blaming any religion”. After the archbishop clarified the pope’s remarks, the pontiff thanked him. Benedict XVI always taught “to enter into genuine dialogue”.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Card Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay (Mumbai), spoke to AsiaNews following the death at the age of 95 of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

"It is a very big loss for the Universal Church, a loss specifically for Asian Churches,” Card Gracias said. For him, Benedict XVI provided great support for the Church in Asia.

“[F]or the Church in India it is a big loss because he was in touch with India, loved India, paid particular attention to India,” Card Gracias explained.

“I was very close to him. He appointed me cardinal and archbishop of Bombay. He was close to me. Even in the time [when] I was not well myself, he was constantly in touch with me, continuously sending messages to me, assuring me of his prayers.”

“[J]ust as Paul the VI fulfilled Vatican II, Pope Benedict was the one who completed what Pope John Paul II had sown and thought”. As cardinal and then as Pope Benedict XVI, he brought to fruition “the teaching of John Paul II, about the Church, about dedication, about evangelisation, about ecumenism.”

For Card Gracias, “History will judge him very, very favourably as someone who has contributed to the progress of theology. His books on the life of Christ are very insightful. I'm amazed at the variety of subjects that he spoke on and his depth of understanding of the scriptures. Although a theologian, his books on Liturgy are [also] so very valuable.”

“I feel almost a personal loss of a leader. I could not see him in recent times on account of his health. I always kept on sending messages. I was touched when, the last time I greeted him at Easter, he replied to my greetings saying he would be sending me his books. He was a very gentle man. He was so personally very kind to me.”

Also from India, Archbishop Felix Machado shared with AsiaNews his memories of Benedict XVI.

“Initially, when asked to come to Rome, I was not very enthused. But in obedience, I did go to Rome to serve in the Roman Curia. I discovered from inside that there were also ‘Holy’ pastors like Cardinal Ratzinger,” said the prelate, who is currently the secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) and served as undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

“We usually crossed each other right in front of St Peter's Basilica. [. . .] He began to inquire more about me. Later, my responsibility brought me in closer contact with” him. “I was called to attend meetings at which Cardinal Ratzinger presided over” as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“I heard of him from Cardinal Yves Marie Congar who was my professor in Paris and Raimon Panikkar who was my moderator for my Ph.D. When I began to read Ratzinger's books, I truly fell in love with his theology.”

When the pope emeritus was appointed prefect, “the media made him to be a ‘watchdog’, as if he was controlling the thoughts of theologians throughout the world. I also began to believe this until I personally came to know [him]”.

Speaking about Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate, Archbishop Machado remembers the tensions and controversy sparked by his Regensburg speech, when he talked about the relationship between religion and violence. In some quarters of the Islamic world, it caused some violent reactions.

“[H]is message had nothing to do with blaming any religion,” the archbishop explained. “In fact, all religions have been guilty at some time or other of succumbing to violence and that too in the name of God.”

At the time, the Indian prelate appeared on television to clarify the meaning of the pope's words. For this reason, “[U]pon his return (from Germany) he thanked me for clarifying the point. My message was simply this: that Pope Benedict XVI is not against dialogue with religions. As a theologian he goes into nuances and teaches to enter into genuine dialogue as the Church teaches, especially [she did] during the Second Vatican Council.”

“I last met Pope Benedict XVI before the pandemic in the monastery where he now lives. He was frail. We walked together in the garden in front of the monastery. He inquired about my ministry, asked me if I was continuing to promote dialogue with other religions”.

“I always felt humble before a man of such deep love for God, such astute intelligence and such humility and simplicity of life.”