Thursday, April 21, 2005
Fr. Fessio, SJ: The Pope's Friend and Student
Fr. Fessio, SJ, and others at Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida react to the announcement that Cardinal Ratzinger had been elected Pope.
Today Hugh Hewitt had one of his best interviews ever.
(Ok, I am a bit biased here. It was with a former professor of mine and a priest who truly is, as he has said of other truly good and holy men--Cardinal de Lubac and Pope Benedict XVI--a man of the Church: homo ecclesiaticus.)
He interviewed Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ. As Hugh tells it:
Pope Benedict XVI is a scholar, and a teacher. Scholar/teachers have students, and they stay close with many of them. Father Joseph Fessio, Provost of Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida, studied under the new pope in the early '70s, and has stayed a friend and student for thirty years. He was my guest today. Here is a short and important --in fact crucial-- excerpt from that conversation. A complete transcript will be posted later at Radioblogger:
"His deepest love is the Mass. And so he wrote a book called The Spirit of the Liturgy, and it is clear that he believes that what happened after Vatican II, that Council, was that the way the Mass was celebrated really represented a break from tradition. It was no longer in continuity. So, he has said publicly that the previous rite should never have been abolished because it was a rite that had nourished saints for centuries. At the same time, he was the one who had to negotiate with Lefebrve and others, and who had to tell the pope, 'We can't take anymore, they ahve broken the rules here, they have ordained bishops.' So he deeply wants to have the Mass celebrated as he says in his homily [today] with solemnity and rectitude. So I think he will reach out to those who have a love for the pre-[Vatican II] Mass."
Fr. Fessio's relationship with the new pope goes back many years. In this article from the Naples Daily News, Fr. Fessio, SJ, reacts to the news of his friend, our new pope:
Ave Maria provost studied with new pope in Germany
By DIANNA SMITH and KRISTEN SMITH,
Naples Daily NewsApril 20, 2005
He twirls his rosary ring, pacing back and forth like a professor in his cabana by the pool at Ave Maria University.
The Rev. Joseph Fessio has been repeating himself for almost three hours now, proudly talking to journalists by phone from all over the world, sharing stories of his friendship and admiration for Pope Benedict XVI, elected Tuesday to succeed Pope John Paul II who died earlier this month.
"I want people to know what a saint we have. He's good, good," says Fessio, the AMU provost, while inhaling a bowl of bean salad before his next interview. "I'm so full of joy."
By 4 p.m., he has 20 unheard messages on his cell phone. He needs to return calls to People magazine, the Washington Post and CNN. He organizes his interviews with the help of three AMU employees recruited to field phone calls and he's reminded periodically to take sips of water so his throat won't dry from talking too much.
Fessio is so popular this day that you'd think he was the one named the new pope.
He jokingly calls himself a hot media property because he's one of the few, perhaps the only person in America, who can speak of the new pope as people speak of old classmates. Their friendship dates back to the early 1970s, when Fessio was pursuing his doctorate in then-West Germany.
He studied under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and was intrigued by the man who is now the leader of the world's 1 billion Catholics.
Ratzinger, a cardinal for the past 27 years, worked closely with Pope John Paul II, making him a popular choice to lead the church.
"I thought about him right from the beginning because he was so friendly with Pope John Paul," says Joseph Friel, of Bonita Springs, who serves as Grand Knight for the St. Leo Catholic Church's council of the Knights of Columbus.
"I know he can't do what Pope John Paul did because they said no one will match him."
Fessio says Pope Benedict XVI will continue Pope John Paul II's legacy.
With the bowl of salad, now empty, Fessio says, "God bless," to a reporter in Rome and hangs up the phone. He falls into his chair. He's got more than 25 journalists to call back and is trying to digest his late lunch. The last free moment he had was around 1 p.m. when he toasted with champagne to celebrate the announcement of the new pope with three close friends. They toasted the pope's health.
Fessio says he's ready for another journalist.
"Do you need to do anything first?" asks Michael Dauphinais, AMU associate dean of faculty, who serves as Fessio's agent this day.
"I wanna call Cardinal (Christoph) Schonborn," Fessio says.
And just like that, he did.
He dialed the cardinal's phone number and, after three rings, Schonborn of Austria picked up his cell phone in Vatican City. Fessio first greets him in German.
"This is so wonderful! What a gift for the church, what a gift for the church!" Fessio says, shaking his right fist in victory. "You must stand by his side, stand by his side ... I won't ask you how you voted because I don't want you to break your seal, so I'm gonna take a guess."
Schonborn also studied with Fessio under the now former cardinal. Their relationships grew after graduation and the two have since kept in touch. Schonborn, Fessio and Ratzinger see each other at least once a year.
Fessio is also editor and founder of Ignatius Press, the exclusive publisher of the 12 books written by the former cardinal.
Fessio says Schonborn told him that after the pope made his first appearance Tuesday from the St. Peter's Basilica balcony, he turned to Schonborn and said, "We must keep our friendship."
Fessio speaks highly of the pope just as one would of a relative: kind, gracious, soft spoken, thoughtful. He brings presents to Fessio whenever they meet.
"He's everything I'm not," Fessio chuckles.
Maureen Boylan of Bonita Springs, a Catholic, says she is pleased a pope has been selected, no matter who he is or where he is from. She says she saw Pope John Paul II at World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002 and feels Pope Benedict XVI will continue the previous pope's work with youth.
With the next World Youth Day — an event where youth from around the world gather to meet and share their faith — being held in Germany, Pope Benedict's native country, Boylan feels Pope Benedict will follow John Paul II's footsteps.
"I'm delighted because we've been praying for the election of this pope and we know the Holy Spirit is the one who chooses the pope," Boylan says. "We didn't think it would be an American cardinal. We had a feeling it would be someone who worked closely with the pope and he did."
The focus now shifts to Sunday, when Pope Benedict XVI formally will be installed.
Dauphinais recites Fessio's schedule today like he's a movie star whose date book is full of talk-show appointments. He's got ABC, "Fox and Friends," the Fox morning show, a date with a television crew from Miami, and whatever else might come up.
Then talk of traveling to Rome arises. Fessio planned to visit in May, but now that his friend and mentor is pope, those plans may be rushed.
"I better go," he says
Posted by W. at 10:59 PM