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Close friend seeks to allay fears over Benedict XVI’s health

Benedict XVI (PA)

One of Benedict XVI’s closest confidants has played down concerns about the former pontiff’s health.

After meeting the retired pope in Rome in early June, Salvatorian Father Stephan Otto Horn, president of the Ratzinger Student Circle, admitted his mentor was frail, but added: “He is 86 now. At that age you are not so strong, but he seemed to me to be very fresh. His memory is fresh and his eyes are very bright and joyous”.

Speaking at the Divine Word Missionaries school in Maynooth, Ireland, during a symposium on the theology of Joseph Ratzinger, Father Horn added: “After his resignation it was difficult for him for three weeks, but after those three weeks, his well-being began improving. And he is very interested in everything.”

Father Horn, who is regular contact with the Pope Emeritus was an academic assistant to then-Father Joseph Ratzinger from 1971 to 1977 at Germany’s University of Regensburg. Their discussions earlier this month were about this year’s Ratzinger Student Circle meeting, scheduled to take place in Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer residency, from August 29 to September 2.

The circle of the former pope’s students has met since 1978 to discuss topics in theology and the life of the Church.

Although Benedict XVI confirmed to Father Horn that he will not attend the meeting of his former students and the young theologians of the Junior Ratzinger Student Circle, the Pope Emeritus chose the speaker, French historian Remi Brague, and the topic to be discussed, The Question of God Against the Background of Secularisation.

“When I was with him, I asked him if it would be possible for him to attend, perhaps even for part of it. But he said he will stay at his convent and will not go to Castel Gandolfo,” Father Horn said.

Father Horn also revealed that Pope Benedict said Pope Francis had been trying to convince him to go to Castel Gandolfo for a vacation, while he was trying to convince Pope Francis to take a vacation there. “(Benedict XVI) said he had told Pope Francis that if he (Francis) couldn’t go there for a long time, then he should at least go there for the feast of the Assumption on August 15, which the Pope traditionally spends with the people of Castel Gandolfo,” he said