[National Council of Churches Press Release] The President of the National Council of Churches USA commended Pope Benedict XVI Tuesday for a “wise and graceful exit that shows enormous courage and a deep commitment to the ongoing effectiveness of his ministry.”
NCC President Kathryn Lohre expressed gratitude for the Pope’s long ministry as pontiff, cardinal, university professor, and priest.
Lohre noted the pope’s decision to step down February 28 after eight years as head of the world’s largest Christian church had “stunned the world, certainly including the 40 million persons who relate to the 37 member communions of the National Council of Churches.”
No pope has voluntarily abdicated his office since 1415, and that was in the midst of a bitter conflict involving three competing pontiffs.
“Pope Benedict’s retirement is virtually unprecedented,” Lohre said. “This is an historic moment that alters expectations for sacrificial leadership in all communions. He is bravely facing up to the realities we all confront: the fragility of the human body and the inevitability of the time when we can no longer shoulder the burdens placed upon us.”
Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, NCC Associate General Secretary, Faith & Order and Interfaith Relations, praised Benedict as scholar, writer, and teacher. “He communicates the essential teachings of the Catholic Church with clarity and precision,” Kireopoulos said. “There are no precedents for the role of an ex-pope. Perhaps his unexpected retirement will give him a chance to write more, or teach.”
The Roman Catholic Church is not a member of either the National Council of Churches USA or the World Council of Churches, Kireopoulos noted. “Catholics serve on commissions and committees in both councils, and their participation has been invaluable,” Kireopoulos said.
Before he became Pope Benedict, Joseph Ratzinger served on the WCC’s Faith and Order Commission, Kireopoulos recalled.
“As Pope, he was very open to ongoing dialogue with other Christian communions and faith groups,” Kireopoulos said.
Kireopoulos, an Orthodox Christian, said Benedict has developed a close relationship with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and has helped to foster closer Orthodox-Catholic relations.
Kireopoulos recalled a commentary he wrote after he was named to his NCC Faith and Order post, on the second encyclical of Pope Benedict, Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope). Benedict addressed important truths that are affirmed by Christians in and outside the Roman Catholic Church, Kireopoulos wrote.
In April 2008, Benedict accepted an elegantly hand-lettered edition of the New Revised Standard Version St. John’s Bible. The New Revised Standard Version was translated under the auspices of the National Council of Churches USA, which owns the copyright.
Persons who observed the presentation noted the pontiff’s obvious pleasure at seeing the volume.
“The pope’s eyes lit up with joy and enthusiasm as he turned the pages,” Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, D.C., told the Associated Press.
“That enthusiasm,” said Kireopoulos, “was a sign of Benedict’s deep appreciation for the common ministries shared by all the Christian communions.”
The St. John’s Bible, a $4 million project funded by private donations, was commissioned by St. John’s Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Collegeville, Minn. The calligrapher is British artist Donald Jackson.
The Pope received a copy of the Wisdom Books. The 1,150 page, 7 volume edition of the entire Bible, measuring 3 feet wide when opened, is nearing completion.
The NRSV was chosen as the translation because it is widely regarded as theologically sound and is used by most major Christian churches.