Last February 11, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement as supreme pontiff on the last day of month, February 28th, due to his advanced age and deteriorating health with a heart pacemaker. During March a conclave would be convened shortly thereafter to elect a new pope.
Joseph Alois Ratzinger was born in Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, on April 16,1927–Holy Saturday–and baptized that same day–the first person baptized in the new Easter water. It was a sign of blessing, he wrote in his memoir, that his life from the beginning was thus immersed in the Easter mystery. He entered the minor seminary in 1939 at the age of twelve, but his studies were interrupted by World War II, when the seminary was closed and Joseph, along with most of his class, was drafted into the army at the age of sixteen.
After the war he resumed his education in philosophy and theology, and together with his brother, Georg, was ordained a priest in 1951. During the course of a twenty-year career as a professor of dogma and theology at several German universities, he earned the reputation of a gifted lecturer and learned scholar, and was present as a peritus, or theological advisor, at all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council.
He was ordained an archbishop in May of 1977 and elevated to the College of Cardinals a month later. He settled in Rome in 1981 and went on to become one of the most influential men in Roman curia. Of the many offices he held, he is best known as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an authoritative advisor on doctrinal issues during his predecessor’s pontificate. When he was elected the 265th successor of Peter in 2005 at the age of seventy-eight, he became the first German pope since Victor II in the eleventh century. A central theme of his papacy has been the staunch defense of core Christian values against what he sees as moral decline across much of Europe. At the same time, he has sought to improve his relations with other religions, trying to determine if a "cultural synthesis" is possible without losing the identity of the faith while engaged in discourse with the Lutheran World Federation, Judaism, Islam, the Anglican Communion, and Christian Orthodox Churches. He has also spoken out against abuses of human rights and ongoing political conflicts and warfare, and has advocated better protection of the environment. He has called for a radical rethinking of the global economy, criticizing the growing divide between rich and poor, and has pressed for a "true world political authority" to oversee the economy and work for the common good.
Ever true to his episcopal motto, "Fellow Worker in the Truth," Pope Benedict XVI’s teaching and prolific writings have always defended traditional Catholic doctrine and values.