Welcome to the Diocese of Lake Charles

By Pamela Seal 
Diocese of Lake Charles 

The death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Saturday, December 31, 2022, has given many in the Diocese of Lake Charles a chance to reflect on the impact the German-born pontiff had on their lives in one way or another.

The faithful in Southwest Louisiana joined with others from around the world in praying for His Holiness after Pope Francis announced on Wednesday, December 28, that his predecessor was “very sick” following a deterioration in his health. The former pope was 95 years old. 

In 2013, Benedict XVI resigned from his position as pontiff citing his “advanced age.” His reign lasted exactly seven years, ten months, and nine days (2005-2013). This marked the first time a pope had stepped down in nearly 600 years. The last pope to resign before his death was Gregory XII in 1415. 

At the end-of-the-year celebration of Vespers and the Te Deum, Pope Francis remembered the Pope Benedict recalling his great kindness, witness of faith and prayer. 

Bishop’s Appointment 

Closer to home, His Excellency, The Most Reverend Glen John Provost, remembers receiving a personally signed letter when Pope Benedict XVI appointed him Bishop of Lake Charles in 2007. 

“Much to my surprise and unlike many of his predecessors, he personally signed letters of appointment for bishops,” he said. “Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI took his vocation as Vicar of Christ and Bishop of Rome very seriously.” 

In a statement regarding the news of his death, His Excellency remarked, “We will miss this faithful servant but know that he left behind a legacy that remains for our benefit and cannot be ignored or forgotten.” 

Bishop Provost said that he had the “great privilege” of meeting Pope Benedict a few times. “He was transparently kind and had a splendid sense of humor,” he noted. 

 

Working for Ratzinger 

Born Joseph Ratzinger in Germany in 1927, Pope Benedict was ordained as a priest in 1951, made a cardinal in 1977, and later served as chief theological adviser to Pope John Paul II. At age 78, he was elected as the 265th pope in April 2005, following John Paul II’s death.

It was Cardinal Ratzinger who was once the boss of Reverend Monsignor Harry Greig — a longtime priest for the Diocese of Lake Charles — when he worked at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome (1988-1991). Monsignor Greig said he appreciated the way the office was run with German efficiency. 

“Cardinal Ratzinger was very personable when you encountered him, a kind man, a private man of faith, highly competent, and with many responsibilities,” Monsignor Greig recalled. 

He observed that part of the Cardinal’s job was to take the hard line and enforce what Saint Pope John Paul II wanted. 

“Cardinal Ratzinger was criticized at times, but he was really doing what the Holy Father wanted,” Greig said. “In my opinion, he was the logical successor of Pope John Paul II because of his having been part of the Curia for so long and understanding the working of the Church in Rome.”  

Monsignor Greig considered the late pontiff a mentor. 

“I have admiration, respect, and only high regards for Pope Benedict. His example of living his priesthood has always inspired me,” Monsignor remarked. “I am grateful for my association with him in Rome and for his leadership of our Church through the years.” 

Impact on Seminary Formation 

Reverend Jeffrey Starkovich, Pastor of St. Pius X Catholic Church in Ragley, was a seminarian in his first few years of formation when Pope Benedict XVI was elected as Bishop of Rome. 

“When I was assigned to study in Rome at the Pontifical North American College, Pope Benedict was a central figure to our formation,” said Father Starkovich. “As I continued in seminary, Pope Benedict’s leadership of the Church continually pointed to the beauty of God’s transcendence.” 

Father Starkovich, a priest now for nearly 12 years, recalls attending the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square most Sundays at noon to pray with Pope Benedict XVI and listen to his reflections. He is eternally grateful for all Pope Benedict did to guide him to the Lord of light and love. 

“As a seminarian nearing my ordination to the priesthood, I was reading Pope Benedict XVI’s marvelous encyclical Spe Salvi (Hope Saves). I had come to the end of this beautiful document on hope sitting in the North American College’s chapel of the Immaculate Conception one evening,” he said thinking back. 

“I put the book down and wept. It was the first time I can recall weeping at the beauty and power of hope,” Starkovich said. “Because of him, I hope to give others a similar encounter with the beauty and power of hope.” 

Starkovich also had the privilege of serving at a Good Friday liturgy presided by Pope Benedict in St. Peter’s Basilica.  

“His pontificate deeply affected me,” he said. “I am very grateful for the ways that he has shaped my priesthood. I pray that the Lord give him a beautiful reward for the goodness of his life, leadership, and holiness.” 

Leading by Example 

Reverend Nathan Long, Pastor of St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church, said that Pope Benedict was perhaps the smartest man in the world, but preferred to remain small and hidden. He was a real-life example of how we can get out of the way and let Christ be seen more fully. 

“Pope Benedict was like a John the Baptist,” said Father Long. “He (Christ) must increase; I must decrease. He was helping the Church by interceding quietly.” 

“This is an example that I believe is pertinent for the priesthood today,” Father Long continued. “The Mass, the parish life, the practice of our faith should never be about the priest’s personality. It is always about Christ.” 

Pope Benedict’s writings also come to mind for Rev. Long. 

“I have always enjoyed his books, especially his Jesus of Nazareth, his interviews with Peter Seward, and his Spirit of the Liturgy,” he said. “I still turn to his old homilies, especially for Lent and Easter, for inspiration.” 

Gentle, Gracious Encounter 

Reverend Monsignor Arthur Calkins, a retired priest in residence at Our Lady of Prompt Succor Catholic Church in Sulphur, worked for more than 21 years as an official of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei.” There were many occasions when he encountered then-Cardinal Ratzinger since their offices were in the same building. 

After Ratzinger was elected pope, there were fewer occasions, but Monsignor Calkins recalls an encounter with Pope Benedict XVI that will forever be etched in his memory. 

“I was formally presented to him by Cardinal Levada, his successor as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, identifying me as an official of the Pontifical Commission ‘Ecclesia Dei.’ 

“When he introduced me to the pope, Benedict graciously looked at me and stated, as he shook my hand and put his left hand on my arm: ‘I know Monsignor Calkins.’ It was only a moment, but so gentle, gracious, and kind that I will never forget it — and happily there is a photo that records that brief event,” Calkins recalled. 

For many years on Thursdays, Monsignor Calkins celebrated Mass for a small community of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist. As he crossed Saint Peter’s Square, Cardinal Ratzinger would be passing in the opposite direction to celebrate Mass at the German Collegium Teutonicum. 

“I would nod or call out, ‘Buongiorno, Eminenza.’ On other occasions, a few more words might be exchanged,” said Calkins. 

From brief encounters over the years and during Benedict’s papacy, Monsignor Calkins said he can testify not only to the late pontiff’s loving and gentle demeanor as the Vicar of Christ, but also to his kindness and graciousness to all that he met, the great and the small. 

Humbled by Honorary Title 

The Very Reverend Daniel A. Torres, Vicar General of the Diocese of Lake Charles and Pastor of Our Lady Queen of Heaven Catholic Church in Lake Charles, recalls how he felt when he was conferred with the title Chaplain to His Holiness by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011. 

“I was deeply humbled when Bishop Provost told me in his office that Pope Benedict XVI had named me Chaplain to His Holiness with the title to be called Monsignor,” said Torres. “My eyes teared up. In reading of Pope Benedict’s death, I once again shed some tears.” 

Chaplain to His Holiness is an honorary office given at the request of his bishop to a priest by the Vatican, in the person of the Holy Father’s Secretary of State. 

Stability for Young Seminarian 

The Very Reverend Ruben Villarreal, Judicial Vicar, was ordained to the priesthood in 2015, two years after Pope Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy. He studied in Rome as a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College during Benedict’s reign as pope, and before that at St. Joseph Seminary College in Saint Benedict, La. 

"As a young seminarian at St. Ben’s, Pope Benedict gave me a sense of stability in the Church. One could feel at ease knowing that we had a Pope who knew what he was talking about and deeply understood changes in the Church and the world of the last several decades,” said Father Villarreal. 

“When he wrote something, we wanted to read it. When he said something, we wanted to hear it,” he continued. “He set an example of priestly life, intellectually, pastorally, spiritually.” 

In 2013, Father Villarreal was the eyes and ears in the Eternal City for the Diocese of Lake Charles, providing reports, during the interregnum, the time between the end of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy and the beginning of the reign of Pope Francis.  

“When Pope Benedict resigned from the papacy, we (seminarians) were stunned, to put the matter lightly,” said Father Villarreal. “For us, the (metaphorically) strongest person we knew was stepping down. We had taken solace in the fact that the man in whom we put so much confidence and trust was at the helm. For my part, it was this trust that also reassured me when I learned of his decision to resign.” 

Father Villarreal said that he knew Pope Benedict never acted in his own self-interest. He knew that if he was doing this, it was the right thing to do. 

“I trusted him. I am grateful for the ways that he remains with us — in the example he set for us, in his writings, in the many decisions he took as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and in the work he did for us as Pope,” said Father Villarreal. “He will be missed; he has been missed.” 

Inspiration, Example of Faith 

Very Reverend Matthew Cormier, Dean of the North Central Deanery and Pastor of St. Henry Catholic Church:

“Pope Benedict XVI was pope for most of my time in seminary. He helped shaped my theological formation. He is quoted in my homilies more than anyone else. His humble example of faith and trust in God’s providence has always inspired me. His passing leaves a hole in my heart and in the heart of the Church that he led for nearly eight years and for which he has spent his entire life. May he now receive his eternal reward and rest from his labors. May he hear those words ‘well done, good and faithful servant.’ ” 


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