Pope's childhood letter to Baby Jesus shows his faith
By Estefania Aguirre
Georg (L) and Joseph Ratzinger during their first Mass processional in Traunstein, Germany in 1951. Photo courtesy of Ignatius Press.

- A Christmas letter that Pope Benedict XVI wrote to Baby Jesus when he was seven years-old demonstrates his devotion to the Sacred Heart and his desire to be a priest.

The letter is on display this Advent in the village of Marktl am Inn in Bavaria, where he was born.

"Dear Baby Jesus, quickly come down to earth. You will bring joy to children. Also bring me joy," he wrote in the 1934 letter, published on the Church-affiliated Italian website Korazym.org.

"I would like a Volks-Schott (a Mass prayers book), green clothing for Mass (clerical clothing) and a heart of Jesus. I will always be good. Greetings from Joseph Ratzinger," he wrote in German cursive hard writing called Sütterlinschrift.

The letter, found during the renovation of a house that Joseph Ratzinger's occupied when he was a professor in Regensburg, was published on Dec. 18. The message was discovered in the estate of his sister Mary, who kept the letter after the Pope's house was converted into a small museum dedicated to him.

In Korazym’s view, the “letter was uncommon for a seven-year-old since he did not ask for toys or sweets, which were always in front of the Ratzinger family's nativity for his three brothers."

The first thing the Pope wanted was a Schott, one of the first prayer books with the missal in German and a parallel text in Latin. At the time there were two editions in the country, one for adults and one for children.

But little Joseph also asked for "green clothing for Mass."

The Pope and his brothers used to play the "game of the priest," and their mother, a seamstress, would help them by making clothes similar to those worn by priests, according to an "Inside the Vatican" interview his brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, gave a few years ago.

He also asked for a heart of Jesus, referring to an image of the Sacred Heart, which his family was very devoted to.

His brother noted that "each year the Nativity would have an extra miniature statue, which was a great joy … We would go with dad into the woods to gather moss and twigs of fir."

In his biography, Pope Benedict the XVI wrote that the volumes he received were "something precious and I could not dream them to have been more beautiful."

Along with his letter is another one by then 10-year-old Georg, who wanted sheet music for a song and a white chasuble, the outer vestment worn by priests when they celebrate Mass.

A third letter by "Mary," a 13-year-old who wanted a book full of drawings, was also discovered.

According to Korazym, "the letters were all on one sheet because the Ratzinger family was not rich."

Pope Benedict and his family lived in Aschau am Inn, a small town west of Munich, from 1932 to 1937.

"The Pope was very glad to find the letter and its contents made him smile," said his secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, when he inaugurated the small museum at the end of summer.

"For him, the smell of musk still belongs to Christmas," he added.

April 19th, 2005: Joseph Ratzinger is elected to be the 265th pope.

                         He takes the name Benedict XVI.

 Spring 2005: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's most recent book, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, will be available.

As Pope John Paul II's chief doctrinal officer and key advisor, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 to 2005. He is the most revered prelate, scholar, theologian, teacher and Catholic author of our time, under Pope John Paul II - having spoken on everything from sexual consumerism, private revelation and the "crisis of faith," to human rights, roles of men and women today, marriage, the priesthood, and the future of the world.

Yet, the depth, candor and humble servitude of this highest-ranking Cardinal will likely be his lasting hallmark, as he is most engaging in God and the World (Ignatius, 2002), perhaps even more than in previous writings.

Ratzinger was born in Germany (Bavaria) on Holy Saturday, April 16, 1927, and baptized that same day. He has said of his early baptism, "To be the first person baptized with the new water was seen as a significant act of Providence. I have always been filled with thanksgiving for having had my life immersed in this way in the Easter Mystery…".

His father worked as a rural policeman, which kept his family continually moving from town to town. In his memoirs about his early life (prior to his appointment as Archbishop of Munich), Milestones: Memoirs 1927 - 1977 (Ignatius, 1999), Ratzinger depicts his family life as quite happy. Family and Church were, for him, inseparable - and he clearly saw Hitler and the Third Reich as the enemy to both. He has said of his father, "…He saw that a victory of Hitler would not be a victory for Germany but a victory of the Antichrist…".

Following his father's retirement while Joseph Ratzinger was a teenager, the younger Ratzinger initiated study of classical languages, and in 1939, entered the minor seminary in Traunstein. In 1943 while still in seminary, he was drafted at age 16 into the German anti-aircraft corps. (Though he was opposed to the Nazis, he was forced to join at a young age.) Ratzinger then trained in the German infantry, but a subsequent illness precluded him from the usual rigors of military duty. As the Allied front drew closer to his post in 1945, he escaped from the Nazis and returned to his family's home in Traunstein, just as American troops established their headquarters in the Ratzinger household. As a German soldier, he was put in a POW camp but was released a few months later at the end of the War in summer 1945. He re-entered the seminary, along with his brother Georg, in November of that year.

Ratzinger and his brother Georg were ordained to the priesthood on June 29, 1951, in the Cathedral of Freising on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

He received his doctorate in theology in 1953 from the University of Munich. Beginning in 1959, he taught theology at the University of Bonn.

Ratzinger became more widely known when, during the Second Vatican Council and at the age of 35, he was appointed chief theological advisor for the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Joseph Frings, for the four-year duration of the Council. After continuing his teaching at several German universities, Ratzinger was appointed by Pope Paul VI in March 1977 as Archbishop of Munich and Freising. In June 1977, he was elevated to Cardinal.

Pope John Paul II summoned Cardinal Ratzinger to Rome in November 1981, and named him Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, President of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and President of the International Theological Commission. He has published several best-selling books which clarify faith practice and Catholic doctrine for today's Catholic and Christian: The Ratzinger Report (1985); Salt of the Earth (1996); The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000); God and the World (2002), and the recently published God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, The Heart of Life (2003).

Additionally, he worked with some 40 collaborators and over a thousand bishops to produce the 900+ page Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Ratzinger worked more closely with Pope John Paul II than perhaps anyone else. On Tuesdays, Ratzinger and members of the Congregation would meet with the Pope for an hour-and-a-half lunch meeting. Then Ratzinger would meet alone with the late Pope every Friday evening to discuss critical problems facing the Church and the deliberations of the Congregation. "Then the Pope decides," Ratzinger said about those meetings.

Ratzinger wielded spiritual influence and worldwide respect even from those who didn't hold to the Catholic faith. As papal biographer for John Paul II, George Weigel, has said, "…not even his [Ratzinger's] implacable enemies ever questioned Joseph Ratzinger's erudition: his encyclopedic knowledge of theology; his command of biblical, patristic, scholastic, and contemporary sources; his elegance as a thinker and writer."

In a recent interview with ZENIT news service, Ignatius Press president Mark Brumley said, "Although Ratzinger the prefect is distinguishable from Ratzinger the theologian, we are blessed in Pope Benedict XVI with a theologian and pastor who has thought and prayed long and hard about Jesus Christ, the Church and her mission to the world. He will, I believe, continue the twofold task of Vatican II -- renewing the inner life of the Church and reinvigorating the Church's mission in the world. He is committed to a renewal of biblical studies and a deepening of ordinary Catholics' appreciation of and participation in the sacred liturgy.

"He staunchly proclaims the universal call to holiness of Vatican II," added Brumley. "He understands the importance of dialogue among Christians and dialogue with world religions and seekers, while he upholds the integrity of Catholic faith and insists on a renewed missionary drive to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world."


Books by Benedict XVI/Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger published by Ignatius Press:

- Behold the Pierced One
- Called to Communion
- Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year
- Daughter Zion
- The Feast of Faith
- God and the World
- God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life
- Gospel, Catechism and Catechesis
- Introduction to Christianity
- Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church
- Many Religions, One Covenant
- Meaning of Christian Brotherhood
- Milestones: 1927-1977
- Nature and Mission of Theology
- Principles of Christian Morality (co-author)
- Principles of Catholic Theology
- The Ratzinger Report
- Salt of the Earth
- The Spirit of the Liturgy
- Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions


Chronology of Events in the Life of Joseph Ratzinger/ Pope Benedict XVI

1927  Ratzinger is born on April 16, Holy Saturday in Marktl am Inn, and is baptized the same day.

Reflecting on this experience in his memoirs, he says:
  To be the first person baptized with the new water was seen as a significant act of Providence. I have always been filled with thanksgiving for having had my life immersed in this way in the Easter Mystery... the more I reflect on it, the more this seems fitting for the nature of our human life: we are still waiting for Easter; we are not yet standing in the full light but walking toward it full of trust. [p. 8, Milestones]
Ratzinger admits it is not easy to say what his 'hometown' is. As a rural policeman, his father was transferred frequently, and his family was continually on the road.

1929  Ratzinger's family moves to Tittmoning, a small town on the Salzach River, on the Austrian border.

1932 December: Due to his father's outspoken criticism of the Nazis, Ratzinger's family is forced to relocate to Auschau am Inn, at the foot of the Alps.

1937 Ratzinger's father retires and his family moves to Hufschlag, outside the city of Traunstein, where Josef would spend most of his years as a teenager. Here he begins classes at the local gymnasium for classical languages, where he studies Latin and Greek.

1939 Ratzinger enters the minor seminary in Traunstein, the initial step of his ecclesiastical career.

1943 Ratzinger, along with the rest of his seminary class, is drafted into the Flak [anti-aircraft corps]. He is still allowed to attend classes at the Maximilians-Gymnasium in Munich three days a week.

1944 September: Having reached military age, Ratzinger is released from the Flak and returns home, only to be drafted into labor detail under the infamous Austrian Legion ("fanatical ideologues who tyrannized us without respite").
 November: Ratzinger undergoes basic training with the German infantry. Due to illness he finds himself exempt from most of the rigors of military duty.

1945 Spring (end of April or beginning of May): As the Allied front draws closer, Ratzinger deserts the army and heads home to Traunstein. When the Americans finally arrive at his village, they choose to establish their headquarters in the Ratzinger house. Josef is identified as a German soldier and incarcerated in a POW camp.
 June 19: Ratzinger is released and returns home to Traunstein, followed by his brother Georg in July.
 November: Ratzinger and his brother Georg re-enter the seminary.

1947 Ratzinger enters the Herzogliches Georgianum, a theological institute associated with the University of Munich.

1951 June 29: Georg and Josef Ratzinger are ordained into the priesthood by Cardinal Faulhaber, in the Cathedral at Freising, on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

1953 July: Ratzinger receives his doctorate in theology from the University of Munich. In connection with his doctoral studies he produces his first important work: Volk und Haus Gottes in Augustins Lehre von der Kirche [People and House of God in Augustine's doctrine of the Church].
Ratzinger devotes his Habilitationsschrift -- book-length contribution to original research in order to teach at the university level -- to Bonaventure's theology of history and revelation.

1959 April 15: Ratzinger begins lectures as full professor (one holding a chair) of fundamental theology at the University of Bonn.
 August 23: Ratzinger's father passes away.

1962 - 1965 Ratzinger is present during all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council as a peritus, or chief theological advisor to Cardinal Josef Frings of Cologne, Germany.

1963  Ratzinger moves to the University of Münster.
 Dec. 16: Ratzinger's mother passes away.

1966 Ratzinger takes a second chair in dogmatic theology at the University of Tübingen. His appointment is vigorously supported and secured by fellow professor Hans Küng. Ratzinger had initially met Küng in
1957 at a congress of dogmatic theologians in Innsbruck, after recently reviewing Küng's doctoral work on Karl Barth. Says Ratzinger:
  I had many questions to ask of this book because, although its theological style was not my own, I had read it with pleasure and gained respect for its author, whose winning openness and straightforwardness I quite liked. A good personal relationship was thus established, even if soon after . . . a rather serious argument began between us about the theology of the council. [Milestones, p. 135]

1968  A wave of student uprisings sweeps across Europe, and Marxism quickly becomes the dominant intellectual system at Tübingen, indoctrinating not only his students but many of the faculty as well. Witnessing the subordination of religion to Marxist political ideology, Ratzinger observes:
There was an instrumentalization by ideologies that were tyrannical, brutal, and cruel. That experience made it clear to me that the abuse of faith had to be resisted precisely if one wanted to uphold the will of the Council [Salt of the Earth].

1969  Scandalized by his encounter with radical ideology at Tübingen, Ratzinger moves back to Bavaria to take a teaching position at the University of Regensburg. He eventually becomes dean and vice president and later, theological advisor to the German bishops.

1972  Ratzinger, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henry De Lubac and others launch the Catholic theological journal Communio, a quarterly review of Catholic theology and culture.

1977   On March 24, Ratzinger is named Archbishop of Munich and Freising. He is urged by his confessor to accept the office and chooses as his episcopal motto the phrase from the third letter of John, "Co-Worker of the Truth," reasoning:
   For one, it seemed to be the connection between my previous task as teacher and my new mission. Despite all the differences in modality, what is involved was and remains the same: to follow truth, to be at its service. And because in today's world the theme of truth has all but disappeared, because truth appears too great for man, and yet everything falls apart if there is no truth. [Milestones, p. 153].
He is ordained May 28.
 June 27 - Ratzinger is elevated to Cardinal of Munich by Pope Paul VI.

1980  Ratzinger is named by Pope John Paul II to chair the special Synod on the Laity. Shortly after, the pope asks him to head the Congregation for Catholic Education. Ratzinger declines, feeling he shouldn't leave his post in Munich too soon.

1981  On November 25, Ratzinger accepts Pope John Paul II's invitation to take over as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

1981  On November 25, Ratzinger accepts Pope John Paul II's invitation to take over as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

1998  On November 6, Ratzinger is elected vice dean of the College of Cardinals.

2002  On November 30, The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, approved his election, by the order of cardinal bishops, as dean of the College of Cardinals.

2005  On April 19, Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Bishop of Rome, and took the name Benedict XVI.


Papal Copyright Goes to Vatican Publishing House

Includes Writings of Benedict XVI and Joseph Ratzinger

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 1, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican Publishing House henceforth will officially oversee the copyright of the writings of the Pope and the magisterial works of the Holy See.

The publishing house will also assume similar control over the books and documents written by Joseph Ratzinger, the Holy See announced today.

For his part, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, today issued a decree in which he entrusted the Vatican Publishing House with "the exercise and protection, in perpetuity and for the whole world, of all the moral rights of author and of all the exclusive rights to economic utilization, without any exception or exclusion, of all the acts and documents with which the Holy Father exercises his own magisterium."

In carrying out this commission, clarified the decree, the director of the Vatican Publishing House, at present Salesian Father Claudio Rossini, "acts in the name and interest of the Holy See," being able to take recourse even to courts in the case of violation of rights.

Moreover, Cardinal Sodano issued a statement saying that the "Holy Father has entrusted the Vatican Publishing House with the exercise and protection of the copyright and of all exclusive rights to economic utilization of the acts, works and writings written by him prior to his elevation to the Chair of Peter."

The statement adds that, "without prejudicing the rights acquired by third parties concerning contracts already concluded with the author, from now on the Vatican Publishing House is also entrusted with the exercise and protection of the copyright concerning contracts still in force."

55 books in German

In statements to ZENIT, Father Rossini explained that shortly after being elected Pope, John Paul II also entrusted to the Vatican Publishing House the rights to the works he wrote as Karol Wojtyla.

"The difference is that, with Cardinal Ratzinger, we are faced with a very large quantity of books," the priest said. "A publishing house in Germany told me that there are more or less 55 in German, while in Italian, scattered in bookstores, there are around 43 volumes."

According to the new decree and the new statement, whoever wishes to publish books or anthologies of Ratzinger's or Benedict XVI's texts will have to ask permission from the director of the Vatican Publishing House.

Father Rossini said that part of the royalties of Benedict XVI's and Ratzinger's works, as was the case with John Paul II, are allocated to charitable works.

The Vatican Publishing House can be contacted at lev@publish.va.


Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI

Joseph Ratzinger was born at Marktl am Inn, Diocese of Passau (Germany) on 16 April 1927 (Holy Saturday) and was baptised on the same day. His father, a policeman, belonged to an old family of farmers from Lower Bavaria of modest economic resources. His mother was the daughter of artisans from Rimsting on the shore of Lake Chiem, and before marrying she worked as a cook in a number of hotels.

He spent his childhood and adolescence in Traunstein, a small village near the Austrian border, thirty kilometres from Salzburg. In this environment, which he himself has defined as "Mozartian", he received his Christian, cultural and human formation.

His youthful years were not easy. His faith and the education received at home prepared him for the harsh experience of those years during which the Nazi regime pursued a hostile attitude towards the Catholic Church. The young Joseph saw how some Nazis beat the Parish Priest before the celebration of Mass.

It was precisely during that complex situation that he discovered the beauty and truth of faith in Christ; fundamental for this was his family’s attitude, who always gave a clear witness of goodness and hope, rooted in a convinced attachment to the Church.

During the last months of the war he was enrolled in an auxiliary anti-aircraft corps.

From 1946 to 1951 he studied philosophy and theology in the Higher School of Philosophy and Theology of Freising and at the University of Munich.

He received his priestly ordination on 29 June 1951.

A year later he began teaching at the Higher School of Freising.

In 1953 he obtained his doctorate in theology with a thesis entitled "People and House of God in St Augustine’s Doctrine of the Church".

Four years later, under the direction of the renowned professor of fundamental theology Gottlieb Söhngen, he qualified for University teaching with a dissertation on: "The Theology of History in St Bonaventure".

After lecturing on dogmatic and fundamental theology at the Higher School of Philosophy and Theology in Freising, he went on to teach at Bonn, from 1959 to1963; at Münster from 1963 to 1966 and at Tübingen from 1966 to 1969. During this last year he held the Chair of dogmatics and history of dogma at the University of Regensburg, where he was also Vice-President of the University.

From 1962 to 1965 he made a notable contribution to Vatican II as an "expert"; being present at the Council as theological advisor of Cardinal Joseph Frings, Archbishop of Cologne.

His intense scientific activity led him to important positions at the service of the German Bishops’ Conference and the International Theological Commission.

In 1972 together with Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac and other important theologians, he initiated the theological journal "Communio".

On 25 March 1977 Pope Paul VI named him Archbishop of Munich and Freising. On 28 May of the same year he received episcopal ordination. He was the first Diocesan priest for 80 years to take on the pastoral governance of the great Bavarian Archdiocese. He chose as his episcopal motto: "Cooperators of the truth". He himself explained why: "On the one hand I saw it as the relation between my previous task as professor and my new mission. In spite of different approaches, what was involved, and continued to be so, was following the truth and being at its service. On the other hand I chose that motto because in today’s world the theme of truth is omitted almost entirely, as something too great for man, and yet everything collapses if truth is missing".

Paul VI made him a Cardinal with the priestly title of "Santa Maria Consolatrice al Tiburtino", during the Consistory of 27 June of the same year.

In 1978 he took part in the Conclave of 25 and 26 August which elected John Paul I, who named him his Special Envoy to the III International Mariological Congress, celebrated in Guayaquil (Ecuador) from 16 to 24 September. In the month of October of the same year he took part in the Conclave that elected Pope John Paul II.

He was Relator of the V Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops which took place in 1980 on the theme: "Mission of the Christian Family in the world of today", and was Delegate President of the VI Ordinary General Assembly of 1983 on "Reconciliation and Penance in the mission of the Church".

John Paul II named him Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and President of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and of the International Theological Commission on 25 November 1981. On 15 February 1982 he resigned the pastoral governance of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising. The Holy Father elevated him to the Order of Bishops assigning to him the Suburbicarian See of Velletri-Segni on 5 April 1993.

He was President of the Preparatory Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which after six years of work (1986-1992) presented the new Catechism to the Holy Father.

On 6 November 1998 the Holy Father approved the election of Cardinal Ratzinger as Vice-Dean of the College of Cardinals, submitted by the Cardinals of the Order of Bishops. On 30 November 2002 he approved his election as Dean; together with this office he was entrusted with the Suburbicarian See of Ostia.

In 1999 he was Special Papal Envoy for the Celebration of the XII Centenary of the foundation of the Diocese of Paderborn, Germany which took place on 3 January.

Since 13 November 2000 he has been an Honorary Academic of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

In the Roman Curia he has been a member of the Council of the Secretariat of State for Relations with States; of the Congregations for the Oriental Churches, for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, for Bishops, for the Evangelization of Peoples, for Catholic Education, for Clergy and for the Causes of the Saints; of the Pontifical Councils for Promoting Christian Unity, and for Culture; of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, and of the Pontifical Commissions for Latin America, "Ecclesia Dei", for the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law, and for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law of the Oriental Churches.

Among his many publications special mention should be made of his "Introduction to Christianity", a compilation of University lectures on the Apostolic Creed published in 1968; "Dogma and Preaching" (1973) an anthology of essays, sermons and reflections dedicated to pastoral arguments.

His address to the Catholic Academy of Bavaria on "Why I am still in the Church" had a wide resonance; in it he stated with his usual clarity: "one can only be a Christian in the Church, not beside the Church".

His many publications are spread out over a number of years and constitute a point of reference for many people specially for those interested in entering deeper into the study of theology. In 1985 he published his interview-book on the situation of the faith (The Ratzinger Report) and in 1996 "Salt of the Earth". On the occasion of his 70th birthday the volume "At the School of Truth" was published, containing articles by several authors on different aspects of his personality and production.

He has received numerous "Honoris Causa" Doctorates, in 1984 from the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota; in 1986 from the Catholic University of Lima; in 1987 from the Catholic University of Eichstätt; in 1988 from the Catholic University of Lublin; in 1998 from the University of Navarre; in 1999 from the LUMSA (Libera Università Maria Santissima Assunta) of Rome and in 2000 from the Faculty of Theology of the University of Wroc?aw in Poland.


Stasi files on Joseph Ratzinger

Files reveal Stasi spied on Joseph Ratzinger. A German Sunday newspaper has published archive material on how East Germany’s Communist secret police, the Stasi, spied on Joseph Ratzinger three decades before he become Pope Benedict XVI.

“Long before his nomination as prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, security ministry agents kept watch on him,” Bild am Sonntag reported. “One of them later wrote with concern that, as Congregation prefect, he would have an influence on the growth of anti-Communist attitudes in the Church, especially in Latin America.”

The tabloid said the Stasi had begun regular surveillance of the then Professor Joseph Ratzinger from his April 1974 visit to East Germany to lecture to theology students at Erfurt, and had regarded him after his June 1977 appointment as a cardinal as “the most decided opponent of Communism in the Vatican”. It added that the Pope had given his consent to publishing the reports.

The Stasi employed 97,000 full-time agents and 173,000 informers from its HQ in Berlin’s Normannenstrasse and 14 regional offices, equivalent to one agent for every six East German citizens.
The archives suggested that Ratzinger had been “emotionally shocked” when leftist students disrupted his theology lectures at Tüübingen in 1966-9, an experience which had turned him from a “church reformer” into a “leading conservative theologian”.