Pope Benedict XVI and a Passionist: Father Martin Bialas. (continued)
Like so many people Father Martin went about his day even as he waited for news about a new Pope. On April 19, 2005 he was preaching a spiritual retreat for sisters at the Passionist retreat house in Munich, Germany. At the conclusion of his evening talk, he went to the Passionist monastery cloister whereupon Father Stefan Neugebauer, C.P., greeted him with the news. "Father Martin, we have a new Pope!" Patiently Martin waited in front of the television. Then came the announcement: Joseph was the name of the new Pope. During the long pause that followed, Father Martin thought "Joseph who? Ratzinger?" However, he quickly dismissed the idea. One of the other cardinals named Joseph must be the one. "And then Ratzinger. It struck me! It struck me!"
Father Martin revealed two reactions upon getting the news. His first "reaction was not enthusiastic joy." This was immediately followed by a sense of great excitement. In any case Father Martin knew that the election meant that some treasured long-standing rituals of prayer and friendship would change. Specifically, no longer was Cardinal Ratzinger going to be able to come to the Passionist house at Regensburg, Germany where they had con-celebrated Mass and then joined together for an informal breakfast.
Father Martin had known Professor Joseph Ratzinger since 1970. It was at that time that Father Martin began doctoral studies in theology with Professor Ratzinger. He and Professor Auer were both members of the Catholic Faculty at Regensburg University in Regensburg. Seven years later, in 1977, Father Martin completed his doctoral degree in theology under their direction. Often times that meant meeting three or four times a week with his professor.
Finding the experience to be positive, Father Martin wanted to continue his studies with Professor Ratzinger by participation in the German program know as habilitation. Successful completion would allow the person to be an academic professor at a university. Professor Ratzinger agreed to the arrangement. Fortunately another student had just completed his habilitation. Father Martin Bialas was his successor.
"I was very happy." recalled Father Martin. However, some months later, Professor Ratzinger was nominated as Bishop of Munich. When he accepted it became quite clear to Father Martin that it was going to be virtually impossible to continue his habilitation with Professor Ratzinger.
At the same time, changes occurred in the life of Father Martin. In June 1977 he made his way to Munich to attend the Passionist Provincial Chapter. Theology was foremost on his mind as he was preparing for his doctoral examination: the rigorosum. His plan was to attend the chapter and then resume his studies. "And then it was very surprising to me" said Father Martin, "that I had been elected as provincial." He was thirty-seven. Admitting that it was "a big decision" to ponder, he decided to accept the three year assignment. Once the term was completed he had every hope to continue his studies with Ratzinger's successor. God and the Passionists, however, had other plans because Father Martin was re-elected for four times more. Altogether he served fifteen years as the provincial of the Passionist German-Austrian Province.
Even as he was provincial Father Martin stayed at the Passionist monastery in Schwarzenfeld and served as director of the Passionist student residence in nearby Regensburg. This was a university residence built originally for Passionist aspirants in the mid 1960s and, over time, used as a residence for approximately forty- six male students matriculated at Regensburg University. In 1970 Father Martin had received permission to begin doctoral studies. His provincial stipulated, and Father Martin agreed, that he would pursue the degree on the condition that he also be the director and administrator of the house.
Ironically, this responsibility to oversee the Regensburg student residence proved to be the link which allowed Father Martin to continue his relationship with Ratzinger. Though he resided in Munich, at the same time Bishop Ratzinger continued to maintain a private family house very near to the Passionists in Regensburg. On many occasions Bishop Ratzinger returned to Regensburg to visit the house-some twenty-five to thirty times a year-to see his brother Georg for holidays, for private days of recollection, or in preparation before an important event. However, since his house had no chapel Bishop Ratzinger asked Father Martin if he might use the Passionist chapel at the Regensburg residence. Of course, Father Martin was delighted to accommodate his former professor. So the practice started that Bishop Ratzinger would often come to the Passionist residence, always with his sister Mary-she died in 1991-to celebrate the liturgy. It was a set ritual. "A half an hour, a little bit more for Mass, con-celebration in the chapel and afterwards he went in our room, the breakfast room, and we had breakfast for a half an hour. And afterwards," said Father Martin, "he went to his house." It was only a ten minute walk. If the weather was bad, Father Martin might pick him up by car. But normally, Cardinal Ratzinger liked the early morning walk.
In 1981 Cardinal Ratzinger was called to Rome as the Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith. Consequently, the opportunities to see one another were a bit less frequent. One event that Father Martin enjoyed a great deal was the so-called Schülerkreis. It was a gathering, once a year, of the twenty to thirty people who have made a doctorate or habilitation with Cardinal Ratzinger. For the last several years the meeting was held in August at Spindlhof, Germany near Regensburg. Whenever possible Cardinal Ratzinger arrived at his home in late July and stayed there till September. "And for this occasion I came by car and picked him up and took him to Spindlhof, about 20 kilometers from his house. And then I drove him back again" said Father Martin.
At other times, when Cardinal Ratzinger made his three or four trips to Pentling, Germany where he has his private house, he and Father Martin would con-celebrate at 7:30 A.M at the Passionist residence in Regensburg. "So it was, the last time, I con-celebrated with Cardinal Ratzinger," remembers Father Martin, "was January 7, 2005." At that time they agreed to follow the same practice they had followed for twenty years: to see each other the week before Pentecost when Cardinal Ratzinger was supposed to come to his house. On April 19, as soon as Father Martin heard that Cardinal Ratzinger was now the Pope, he realized that their twenty-seven years of liturgy and breakfast had come to an end.