At Home With The Pope: Inside Benedict XVI’s Daily Life (And Menu)

While John Paul II relied on Polish nuns, Benedict XVI has turned to members of a Catholic lay association to maintain the papal apartment. His personal secretary Mons. Georg Ganswein keeps up his daily schedule. And when it's lunchtime, they all

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Andrea Tornielli

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI isn't alone in his apartment at the Vatican. Four "guardian angels' help him, and recently there has been an addition to the personnel at his service.

For the past six years, the pontiff's Vatican apartment has been run by members of the "Memores Domini," a lay association whose members practice obedience, poverty and chastity, and who live in a climate of silence and common prayer.

Loredana is the queen of the kitchen, which was renovated in 2005 with onyx countertops and grey shelves. She prepares meals on a big marble table for Benedict, who turns 84 on Saturday, and any invited guests. Pasta dishes are her specialty: including pasta with salmon and zucchini or rigatoni with prosciutto. She keeps in touch with the Vatican supermarket and chooses which vegetables to get from the garden of Castelgandolfo, a papal retreat in the hills south of Rome.

Carmela helps in the kitchen, where she specializes in cakes the pope has appreciated since his days as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. His favorites are strudel, tiramisu and tarts. Carmela also tidies the pope's bedroom and looks after his wardrobe.

Cristina handles the apartment's chapel, where the pope celebrates Mass every morning, and pitches in with some secretarial work.

Finally, Rossella, the latest addition, handles the pope's archives and the rooms of Benedict's two secretaries, Georg Ganswein and Alfred Xuereb. A social worker in a small community in northern Italy, Rossella was transferred to the Vatican to replace a woman who died in November after being run over by a car in Rome. A former colleague in her community, Ornella Galvani, describes Rossella as "gentle and always ready to help people."

Until 2005, under the late John Paul II, the papal apartment was run by Polish nuns. The "memores' aren't nuns, do not wear religious garments, are lay and live in the world. But this isn't the first time that lay housekeepers are allowed inside the papal apartment. In 1922, upon his election, Pope Pius XI demanded that his housekeeper follow him inside the Vatican. When he was told this might seem inappropriate and had no precedent, Pius cut it short: "I'll be the first one then," he was said to have responded.

Also part of Benedict's "pontifical family" is his aide Paolo Gabriele, who waits at the table and helps the pope during trips and public events.

A typical "Benedictine" day

The pope's day begins at 7 a.m. with Mass; one hour later breakfast is served. At 9 a.m. the pope goes into his private study, the one where he recites the Angelus prayer every Sunday, speaking from the window overlooking St. Peter's Square. In the study he does his work, where another consecrated lay woman, Birgit, helps him in her role as secretary and typist -- she can read Benedict's tiny handwriting better than anyone else.

Following Birgit in the study is Georg, the pope's secretary, to discuss the day's agenda. Typically, the pontiff works until 11 a.m., when "audiences' (or meetings) begin. At 1:15 p.m. lunch is served, with the secretaries and the "memores' sitting at the table with Benedict.

After a brief stroll in the roof garden, the pope rests, to return to his private study at 4 p.m. He says the rosary and then resumes his work. After a prayer, dinner is served at 7:30 p.m., in time to watch the 8 p.m. newscast on RAI, the Italian state broadcaster. An hour later, the pope says goodnight and retires, though he works some more before going to sleep.

The people surrounding him are in effect a real family for the pope. In his recent book "Light of the World," Benedict said he hardly ever watches TV, though he made an exception when he watched with his "family" old black-and-white movies of Don Camillo and Peppone, Italian comedies portraying the playful clashes between the communist mayor of a small town and the local priest in postwar Italy.

Read the original article in Italian

Photo - Andre Ballensiefen

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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