By Hannah Brockhaus
ROME, ITALY — Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI celebrated his 93rd birthday Thursday at his Vatican residence during Italy’s coronavirus lockdown.
The retired pope, who lives in the Mater Ecclesia monastery on Vatican grounds, did not have any visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to his personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein.
Ganswein told Vatican News April 16 that Benedict had received many emails, letters, and phone calls wishing him a happy birthday, including from his older brother Georg Ratzinger.
Benedict XVI’s quiet birthday began with Mass in the monastery chapel, and included prayer and reading, Ganswein said. Benedict also listened to some traditional songs from his homeland of Bavaria.
Ganswein said the pope emeritus is keeping informed on the coronavirus pandemic and prays daily for the sick and suffering.
“He was also particularly struck by the many priests, doctors, and nurses who have died, especially in north Italy, in carrying out their service to coronavirus patients,” the secretary said.
He added that Benedict XVI “participates in this sorrow” and follows it “with concern,” but “does not let himself be robbed of hope.”
On his birthday, Benedict was gifted a copy of a new book on his life, written by German journalist Peter Seewald. Volume one of “Benedict XVI: The Biography” will be published in German May 4 and in English toward the end of 2020.
Ganswein said Seewald had intended to give the copy of the authorized biography to the pope emeritus personally but was prevented by the current pandemic situation.
Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy in 2013, citing advanced age and declining strength that made it difficult to carry out his ministry. He was the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years.
Since his retirement, Benedict’s birthday celebrations have some years included visits from his brother, Georg, and from Pope Francis.
In a letter published in an Italian newspaper in February 2018, Benedict said, “I can only say that at the end of a slow decline in physical strength, inwardly I am on pilgrimage home.”