This wonderful story, which gives great insight into the gentle personality of Joseph Ratzinger, has emerged from one of Italy’s regional newspapers.
Don Mauro Malighetti is the pastor of Our Lady of the Snows Valsasso, a village in an Alpine valley in the north of Lombardy. It includes the parishes of Introbio, Primethorpe, Cortenova, Parlasco and Taceno – all small Alpine settlements.
On 23rd July the parish priest, Don Mauro Malighett, was thrilled and surprised to have an informal meeting with the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI.
Don Mauro recounts how "The unexpected call came from Sister Birgit (Wansing, secretary to Joseph Ratzinger). In a firm voice, though in broken Italian, (she is German) she told me that the Pope Emeritus had accepted my request for a personal encounter”.
“It seemed a dream, but after a few days a letter of confirmation came in the mail. I wanted to meet the retired Pope to thank him for everything he has done for the Church and for what he “silently' continues to do”.
"To this day I am amazed, I fail to see why he said yes," says the priest. He recalls the steps that eventually led him straight to Joseph Ratzinger.
On 11 October 2013 he wrote a letter to Benedict expressing his amazement - in a positive sense – at the gesture he had mad in leaving office and asking him how he prepared for this decision. On 24 October came a reply, explaining how he (Benedict) had been preparing since his election, being a humble servant ready to give way to a younger and stronger person. On 22 February 2014, after seeing Benedict at the Consistory for the making new cardinals, sitting humbly among the cardinals, he was greatly moved
On 4 June 2014, he wrote to Benedict’s secretary asking for the opportunity to "steal" 3-4 minutes to greet him. “There followed a silence which was broken on 30 June by the phone call from a nun in the Vatican who said that Papa Ratzinger had agreed to meet me and invited me to visit the monastery where he lives on 23 July at 6 o’clock in the evening. I was thrilled, because I do not know him in person. I had just shaken hands with him after an audience, like many others, in 2008”.
The nun (probably Birgit Wansing) said that it was Benedict who personally decided to agree to the visit.
So, on 23 July, after being admitted to the Vatican gardens, Don Mauro rang the bell a few minutes before 6 p.m. feeling he had been "catapulted" - really by accident - from his parish on remote northern border of Italy to Rome.
“As precisely as a German watch, at 6 o'clock the sister bade to me go up to the apartment of the Pope Emeritus. For 25 minutes it was just me and him, him sitting on a couch and I on a chair, facing each other. The meeting was heart-warming. He is a shy person, but he was like a grandfather who listens to a grandson. It felt as if he had known me for a long time”.
Don Mauro had some questions regarding the retirement. He expressed gratitude for all the good Benedict has done and continues to do “silently”. “I had before me a man free from any schemes. He was not the cold German that some imagine. He is a man capable of listening, without haste - a man whose personality was perhaps not able to emerge clearly while he was the Pope. "
Benedict asked about Valsasso and its parishioners, about his health - "because health is important".
“He asked me about the joys and 'hard work' of being a priest today and encouraged me not to give in to the comforts of life, but to go on bringing the proclamation of the Gospel to every man.”
Benedict told him: "Without God, human life loses its meaning. You cannot avoid the observance of the Commandments. They are the compass for every Christian”.
Benedict also told Dom Mauro a little about his own days – he studies, has weekly contact with Pope Francis, and how he likes to walk to the Grotto of Our Lady, in the garden, to pray the Rosary. "He was absolutely polished in his thinking. His thoughts are theologically very dense."
“When the time came to say goodbye, some pictures were taken by one of nuns who live with Papa Ratzinger.” Don Mauro left with Benedict’s blessing and the Pope Emeritus also gave him a rosary which he treasures
Don Mauro’s reflections on how the "pastor of Valsasso" met the Pope Emeritus, together with the correspondence, are being published in a booklet.