Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has said that he looks forward to joining his friends in heaven in a condolence message following the death of a Cistercian priest.
In a letter dated Oct. 2 and released by Wilhering Abbey in Austria, the 94-year-old retired pope said that the death of Fr. Gerhard Winkler touched him profoundly, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.
“The news of the passing of Prof. Dr. Gerhard Winkler O. Cist., which you have conveyed to me, has affected me deeply,” wrote Benedict XVI, who was pope from 2005 to 2013.
“Among all colleagues and friends, he was the closest to me. His cheerfulness and deep faith always attracted me.”
“Now he has arrived in the next world, where I am sure many friends are already waiting for him. I hope that I can join them soon.”
Bernhard Winkler was born in Wilhering, Upper Austria, near the city of Linz, in 1931. He entered the local Cistercian monastery in 1951, taking the religious name Gerhard. He was ordained a priest on June 29, 1955, in Linz.
After gaining a doctorate in theology in Vienna in 1956, he taught German and English. He earned a master’s degree in English from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
In 1969, he embarked on an academic career in Germany, teaching in Bochum and Freiburg.
He worked closely with Joseph Ratzinger, the future Benedict XVI, at the University of Regensburg, where he lectured in Medieval and Modern Church History from 1974 to 1983.
Ratzinger had joined the University of Regensburg in 1969 as a professor of dogmatic theology and the history of dogma. He served as the university’s vice president until 1977, when he was named archbishop of Munich and Freising.
Winkler was a professor of Church history at the University of Salzburg, Austria, from 1983 until his retirement in 1999.
From 2018, he lived in a care home run by religious sisters in Linz.
“In the meantime,” Benedict XVI concluded his condolence message, “I am joined up with him and the monastic community of Wilhering in prayer.”
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