I wasn't Catholic or even considering Catholicism when I saw Pope Benedict XVI in early September 2010. I was a twenty-year-old college student studying abroad, and I just happened to be in London at the same time that the pope was visiting the United Kingdom. To me, Pope Benedict was just a significant world figure that I had the chance to catch a glimpse of, so why wouldn't I? Joining crowds of people lining the street near the River Thames, I briefly saw the pope ride by in the popemobile on his was between a meeting with the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury and an address to the Houses of Parliament at Westminster Palace.
This was the first state visit by a pope to the U.K., which officially rejected the authority of the pope in the sixteenth century, and it made major waves. British society is very secular, and many people were skeptical or openly hostile to Pope Benedict. There were protests in the streets and many angry articles in the press. However, the crowd I was in was quite celebratory, and I even heard some people chanting "God bless the pope!" I could tell that not all of the people who warmly welcomed Pope Benedict were Catholic, and that his visit was an occasion for goodwill between various British Christians. As a born and bred Lutheran I was suspicious of the Catholic Church, but even I was heartened by this show of unity among believers. Christian unity was clearly on Pope Benedict's mind as well, since he attended an ecumenical prayer gathering at Westminster Abbey that very evening.
Before leaving the U.K., Pope Benedict beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman, an influential nineteenth-century English churchman. I don't think I had heard of Newman before then, but about four years later, when the Catholic Church started to pique my interest, I remembered his name and picked up several of his books. Newman was an Oxford man, and the bulk of my time in England was spent in Oxford. He was also a convert to the Catholic Church, so I felt a kinship with him. I also read a few of Pope Benedict's encyclicals (Deus Caritas Est and Spe Salvi) around this time in my life and was illuminated by them. Looking back, I can see that both Pope Benedict and Cardinal Newman (who I chose as my patron and who has since been canonized) were important figures in my journey to the fullness of faith in the Catholic Church. They helped me to be more sympathetic to Catholics and the Church, and they helped me better understand the richness of the Catholic intellectual and spiritual tradition. For that, I am eternally grateful.
I was saddened to hear of Pope Benedict's death, though I've been anticipating it for years. Benedict loved the Lord, knew him well, and died in his friendship, and I'm sure that he wants us to grow in our love and knowledge of Christ as well. To that end, Greg and I recently recorded a three-part series for the podcast on Pope Benedict's contributions to the Church. We barely scratched the surface, really, but it's a good start. The first two episodes have been released, with the third on the way.
In my role at the Lakeshore Academy for the New Evangelization, I put together a compilation of Pope Benedict's teachings and a number of ways to pray for his soul. I encourage you to make use of both.
My name's Cory Lakatos. I grew up Protestant and became a Catholic as a young adult. Now I work for a Catholic parish and am involved with LANE, One Whirling Adventure, and Considering Catholicism. On this blog, I share my perspective on things Catholic, especially topics I considered in the process of converting.