VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate his 85th birthday on Monday with a number of visitors, including his elder brother and the president of his native Bavaria.
His birthday will be "a normal working day, he never interrupts his daily routine, but it will be a very Bavarian day," said Monsignor Georg Gänswein, Pope Benedict's private secretary, in an interview with Gente, a weekly magazine.
The Pope, who is now the sixth-oldest pontiff in history, returned to the Vatican April 13 after five days of rest at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.
His few days of retreat followed a grueling fortnight that included his six-day apostolic voyage to Mexico and Cuba and the Church’s Easter celebrations in Rome.
The Holy Father, who has shown increasing frailty and exhaustion in recent weeks, nevertheless remains in relatively good health and appears to have no serious medical ailments apart from arthrosis and pain in his right hip.
His 88-year-old brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, told a German news agency April 12 that his wish for his younger sibling on his birthday was that he “still finds enough strength to fulfill his service for the blessing of the Church” and that he “continues to stay in good health.”
Last week the Pope received many tributes to coincide with his birthday, mostly in the form of a book of plaudits from a group of prominent German figures, but also accolades from one of his best-known biographers.
Twenty leading Germans from the fields of politics, culture, the economy and sport have shared their opinions on the Pope in a new book, Benedikt XVI: Prominente über den Papst (Benedict XVI: Prominent Figures on the Pope). Contributors include the former Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, former German soccer star Franz Beckenbauer and alpine skier Maria Höfl-Riesch. The opinions of prominent cardinals and evangelical Christians are also included. The book was presented to the Pope on Monday.
Beckenbauer, who is known for his frankness, said he treasures a photo of him and Pope Benedict, which he brings with him whenever he travels. “It lies in my suitcase, at the top,” he said. “The inner peace, dignity and kindness that this man transmits has impressed me greatly,” he wrote, adding that a meeting he had with Pope Benedict changed him personally. “I’m going back to church more often,” he said. He also now prays the Our Father every day because from it he draws “strength and fortitude.”
Cardinal Joachim Meissner, archbishop of Cologne, described the Pope as the “Mozart of theology,” while Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the archbishop of Munich, praised Pope Benedict for his “fine sense of humor, intellectual strength and joy in the faith.”
Not all of the book’s contributors are in complete agreement with the Pope, however. Höfl-Riesch, also from Bavaria, said she feels his office is “too great for him to always do the right thing.” But she said she is not impressed by his critics: “I don’t have to agree with everything he may do as Pope, but I still appreciate and feel respect for him as a person.”
Writing in the book’s foreword, Msgr. Ganswein stressed that every contributor had “complete freedom to express their feelings,” and there was “no trace of censorship.”