THE icon of a servant leader was at its most profound significance not only in the final act of selflessness of Pope Benedict XVI but throughout his term in the Petrine ministry. Even at the expense of being tagged as a shy pope, he was already very keen from the very start on separating the person from the papacy which is an office invested with authority and glory.
Noticeable, for instance, how he saw to it that there would always be a large crucifix on the center of the altar whenever he celebrated the Eucharist—to the disgust of cameramen—perhaps to place more focus on the sacrament and not on the celebrant. Noticeable, too, how he left behind his distinguished theological positions the moment he stepped into the papacy. Instead, he issued inspiring encyclicals on the theological virtues, he wrote pastoral reflections on Jesus and beautifully crafted homilies and angelus messages; no longer originating from a professorial-chair point of view but from the Vicar of Christ, the shepherd of the entire Christendom.
As he surrendered the papal reign to his successor to whom he already pledged his “unconditional reverence and obedience”, he also surrendered unresolved issues and ecclesiastical controversies surrounding his papacy and the entire church which his failing health and advance age could only make worse if he continued. But again, it was an act of a servant leader whose greatest virtue, despite its very tempting prominence, is still humility. He started his papacy describing himself as a “humble servant in the Lord’s vineyard,” he ended it by capturing his retirement as a time of being a “simple pilgrim, who begins the last stage of his pilgrimage on this earth.”
At press time, the Cardinals are on their 4th congregation, a pre-conclave conference that includes even non-elector members of the College of Cardinals. From the Paul VI Audience Hall in the Vatican where they hold these general congregations, they proceeded to hold an evening prayer service at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica “to give a good example of the call to the whole Church to live in prayer this time of preparing for the important moment of electing a pope,” according to the Vatican spokesperson, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ.
A good deal of prayer is needed indeed to look for the man whose feet will fit the shoe of a servant leader. All the world is wildly speculating of who the next pope would or should be. In social media, this one is very common: “A humble and good candidate, a good communicator who meets with people around the world and attracts young people.” Among US bigwigs, Cardinals Francis George and Sean O’Malley look forward to a pope who will have “zero tolerance” when it come to clergy sex abuse and who will reform the administration of the Church.
But of course, the Holy Spirit will know who should be the right “Servant of the Servants of God” is for this generation.