Cantucci and Vin Santo with the Future Pope

Reading a story in the Vatican News about Pope Benedict XVI and his love for  Africa, I was struck by the accompanying picture of Benedict XVI with his friend  Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, former Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and  former Dean of the College of Cardinals. Much beloved by my dear friend  Cardinal Gantin, Pope Benedict was a wise professor, a humble and honest man,  he was a great pope and the right man to follow Pope John Paul II in the Petrine  Office. 

When my time as a Swiss Guard began, Cardinal Ratzinger was “only” the Prefect  for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. And yet, even back in the day,  everyone at the Vatican knew Cardinal Ratzinger and had their own encounters  with this very soft-spoken, gentle, shy man. He was a man of habit, crossing St.  Peter’s square four times every day as he walked back and forth from his  apartment at the Borgo, never denying a gentle word for pilgrims. 

My last encounter with Cardinal Ratzinger was the day before the conclave that  elected him began. Pope Saint John Paul II’s funeral had been a few days before. I  was at the Vatican having lunch with Cardinal Gantin who was in town for the  funeral. Cardinal Gantin, who had become my close personal friend during my  years as a Swiss Guard, did not enter the Sistine Chapel during the 2005 conclave  because of his age. 

Ratzinger and Gantin were created cardinals in the same consistory, on June 27,  1977. It was the final consistory of Paul VI. Gantin once told me, “For me it was  an honor to be created a cardinal by the great Pope Paul VI together with great men  like Giovani Benelli, Joseph Ratzinger, Mario Luigi Ciappi, and Frantisek  Tomasek. 

In an interview after Pope Benedict’s election Gantin said, “His name is Benedict,  but for me he is also Bene-dato (well-gifted) to the Church of Jesus. He is a man of  superior culture. But above all he is a man of great faith and great piety; he is a  man of prayer.” That of Benedict XVI, he predicted, “will be a sober, simple,  direct pontificate, focused on the essential.” Prophetic words which served to  confirm for me the greatness of the humble cardinal from the CDF. 

So there I sat, with Cardinal Gantin, in the dining hall of the Preseminario in the  Palazzo San Carlo. I was showing him some family pictures when there was a  knock at the door and in came Cardinal Ratzinger. Seeing we were having lunch, 

he immediately apologized and said he would return later to speak with Cardinal  Gantin. Since we were just finishing our meal, he asked Cardinal Ratzinger to join  us, which he did. 

He sat down and we exchanged a few words while eating a “cantuccio” cookie that  Cardinal Ratzinger dunked in my vin santo. During that informal moment I re introduced myself and we reminisced about two conversations we had shared  during my time of service at the Vatican, one about the unique brewing process of  Bavarian beer and the other about the Mozart Piano Concerto No 21.  

During our conversation, we started talking about the qualities and the virtues the  next pope needed to have; Cardinal Gantin said that, according to him, the new  pope had to have discipline accepting God’s will in all His manifestations, warmth because the grace of God is the source of authentic joy, and generosity in giving  oneself freely and enthusiastically for Christ and never measuring the efforts.  Cardinal Ratzinger agreed and added that the new pope had to love the Truth at all  costs, even when it meant suffering! 

Once Cardinal Ratzinger left the room, I immediately asked Cardinal Gantin if I  had just spoken with the future Pope. With a huge smile he laughed and just shook  his head saying, “Ah…Mario!” He couldn’t say yes, because it is the Holy Spirit who chooses, but it was almost a yes! 

I know Cardinal Gantin and Pope Benedict XVI will join the communion of Saints someday. What they taught me is that, when we face frustration, we need to recall  that we have the power to triumph over sin because we are courageous men and  women.  

And as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once told me, we are courageous because we  have Christ’s grace within us. In other words, we have the innate capacity to be  victorious, but we must renew our struggles with the help of our Lord and Savior.

M. Enzler 

Founder of Borromeo Project Inc. 

Author of I Served a Saint