Monday, September 04, 2006

The Pope's Friend


One of Pope Benedict's closest friends is also named Joseph. He is a German banker who has been a friend of the Pope for close to thirty years. Thaddeus Joseph Kuehnel has been invited to spend a night at the seminary where the Pope will reside during his apostolic trip to his homeland of Bavaria on Sept 9-14, 2006. Catholic News Service has more on this story. Hat tip to American Papist.

To illustrate their closeness, you must read the story below.

Love of Bavarian food, culture sustains pope's friendship with banker

MUNICH, Germany (CNS) -- The 27-year friendship between Pope Benedict XVI and a German banker was sustained through a mutual love of Bavarian food and culture -- and multiple drives across the Alps.

Munich banker Thaddaeus Joseph Kuehnel said that in 1982, when then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger left his post as archbishop of Munich and Freising to become head of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation, the cardinal seemed sad about leaving his home. "I told him that he need not be sad, I would bring Bavaria to Rome for him," Kuehnel told Catholic News Service in May.

This started a series of cross-continental journeys of Bavarian food, drink and cultural items. "For over 20 years," Kuehnel said, "I have been delivering all those items he misses about Bavaria: Adelholzener fruit nectar; Bavarian sausages from his favorite restaurant, Franziskaner, where we often dined together; Advent wreaths and genuine Bavarian Christmas trees."

Kuehnel was still flying to Rome when he began taking Bavarian Advent wreaths. "It started with two wreaths," he said, "one for his office, the other for his living quarters. I was traveling by plane then, and when they opened my suitcase at customs, they grew very solemn and started offering me their condolences. They thought I was going to a funeral, bringing wreaths for the grave."

Pope John Paul II saw Cardinal Ratzinger's wreaths and asked for some, too. The following year, Kuehnel transported more wreaths in his car, with an especially big one for the pope. The news of the wreaths spread throughout the Vatican, then beyond its walls. "Last year, I had 52 wreaths in the back of my car," said Kuehnel, smiling.

Christmas trees are also in high demand. "Last year, I transported eight Bavarian trees on the roof of my car," said Kuehnel. "I carry too much to get everything into a plane. ... My best driving record was eight hours (to Rome); now it takes me 10."

The banker and pope's friendship began in 1978, when Kuehnel visited Bad Adelholzen, a small Bavarian town where Cardinal Ratzinger was vacationing at a summer villa with his brother, Father Georg Ratzinger, and his sister, Maria.

Kuehnel was seated at the same table with the family for lunch and said he was touched by the cardinal's "genuine depth of his faith when he prayed with his siblings before lunch." "It was a prayer lasting minutes. After eating, they prayed together again. I felt drawn at once to this pious, modest man, who radiated an inner kindness," Kuehnel told CNS. After eating, Kuehnel joined the cardinal and his siblings for a walk through the Bavarian countryside. They spoke in the Bavarian dialect, "talking about the marvels of nature and about recognizing God in them."

Their initial meeting so impressed Kuehnel that he kept in touch, and the friendship began. When Cardinal Ratzinger returned to Bavaria to visit, Kuehnel would pick him up at the airport. "I got special permission to collect him straight from the plane, driving the car onto the runway," Kuehnel said. Then, the men would often drive for vacation into the Bavarian countryside, but they also ventured as far as Italy.

Kuehnel said their relationship is so close that he arranged the 75th birthday celebrations for the cardinal. Asked about one of his favorite memories of their trips together, Kuehnel said: "A pious hotel manager offered to take us to his secluded mountain hut. We were in his jeep, with the cardinal in the back. As often when we are on the road together, we prayed, saying the rosary while going up a very winding, unsecured serpentine road with steep drops.

The hotel manager had the rosary in one hand and steered with the other. I was concerned he could lose his grip and we might drop. When I looked at the cardinal, he just calmly kept praying. He had complete trust in God." Kuehnel also knows the pope is partial to German candy. "Pope Benedict XVI definitely has a sweet tooth," Kuehnel said. "He particularly looks forward to dessert whenever we go out to eat."

In Rome, they often dined in an intimate circle: Kuehnel, the cardinal, his private secretary or his sister when she was still alive. "He was always in bed at 10 p.m. and up at about 6 the next morning, even though in Rome most people stay up very late," said Kuehnel, director of Hauck and Aufhaeuser private bankers in Munich.

He said he is grateful that his bank gave him the necessary freedom for his frequent travels. "Our bank is very close to the Catholic Church, so they have a lot of understanding for our friendship and what it entails," he said. Kuehnel recalled comforting his friend when Maria Ratzinger suffered a stroke and died in 1991. "The cardinal called me at once but when I got there she was already dead. Joseph opened the door to me, crying bitterly. We all cried, because she was such a lovely woman," Kuehnel said.

He recalled how there used to be four friends on their outings. "Now there's only two of us," Kuehnel said. "First, Maria died, then Joseph Ratzinger became pope. Only Georg and I are left."

Whether Pope Benedict will be able to join them again is uncertain. "We suddenly have to work out how our visits together can continue," Kuehnel said. "This all depends on Vatican protocol. It is a big change for me. The shock is still sinking in, because he was such a big part of my life for the past two decades.

"When I broke my foot in April, in between holding the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II and preparing for the conclave, he still found time to send me a personal get-well card. And he also said later that, whatever happens, we are going to remain close to each other," Kuehnel said.

Images from here.


Blogger Danny Garland Jr. said...

That is a great story! Thanks for sharing!

2:40 PM  
Blogger antonia said...


2:52 PM  
Blogger Carmel said...

Thanks for telling us about him! I love the wreath and will always love Christmas trees.

6:18 PM  
Blogger Saint Peter's helpers said...

You're welcome all! It's a heartwarming story and I love to hear stories about the life of Cardinal Ratzinger before he became Pope.

9:12 PM  

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