Retired Pope Benedict XVI is seen in a file photo praying with his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, in his private chapel at the Vatican. The retired pope has declined the inheritance of his brother Georg -- who died July 1, 2020 -- so the estate goes to the Holy See. CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters
Retired Pope Benedict XVI is seen in a file photo praying with his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, in his private chapel at the Vatican. The retired pope has declined the inheritance of his brother Georg -- who died July 1, 2020 -- so the estate goes to the Holy See. CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters
The ways in which Pope Benedict XVI inspired others from around the globe are many and varied. Here in the Diocese of Trenton, some folks spoke on how they gleaned inspiration from the late Holy Father’s works and many teachings, while others reflected on his charism and the way he carried himself as a Catholic man, priest and leader of the Universal Church.

In a January bulletin message, Father Daniel Kirk, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Cinnaminson, recalled his time as a seminarian, watching when then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger celebrated Pope John Paul II’s funeral Mass. The Cardinal’s homily left him “instantly impressed by how well he spoke of the deceased pontiff and of the Christian faith.”

Father Kirk was also in Rome for studies when Pope Benedict announced his resignation from the papacy; “Something not seen in centuries,” recalled Father Kirk, who attended the Holy Father’s final Angelus address and Papal audience, observing how “surreal it was to be in Rome for those historic days.”

“It was both exhilarating and sad to be witness to the end of the time of Pope Benedict in person,” Father Kirk said. Now, “Pope Emeritus Benedict has gone home to the Lord …” and while “it’s a mercy he’s been called home by God … there’s a sadness for me and for many who’ve shared some kind of connection with this particular pope,” he said.

While he was a tremendous theologian, an accomplished servant of the Church, and a nuanced liturgist, “which stands out most to me is how authentically he loved Christ and the Church,” Father Kirk stated. “It came across in everything he wrote and said, in how he carried himself and treated others, in his humility and his prayer life. He did much good in the life of the Church.”

In a prepared statement, Congressman Chris Smith, R-NJ, recalled the late Holy Father as being “an extraordinary religious leader, a powerful defender of the weakest and most vulnerable, including unborn children and their mothers, and ever faithful in both living and promoting the good news of the Gospel.

“Pope Benedict XVI led us to be more faithful followers of Jesus Christ and his Church on earth,” said Smith, a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Whiting. “Pope Benedict XVI inspired countless believers to love God above all things and to love our neighbor as ourselves …”

The congressman spoke of how “tenacious” Benedict was in defending the tenets of the Catholic Church and a great defender of religious freedom. He recalled Benedict’s speaking about religious freedom during his 2008 address at the White House and at the United Nations.

“Pope Benedict XVI was brilliant yet humble and courageous and spoke much of forgiveness and reconciliation,” Smith said. “What a blessing he was. Indeed, what a blessing.”

For priests like Father Alberto Tamayo and Father Richard Osborn, both of whom concelebrated the Memorial Mass with Bishop O’Connell, their presence was in thanksgiving for the influence the Holy Father had on their priestly vocations.

“I loved Pope Benedict,” said Father Tamayo, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Red Bank, and moderator of the St. Philip Neri Oratory.

After noting the “great joy” it was to meet Pope Benedict in person during a visit to Rome with Bishop O’Connell, Father Tamayo spoke about the “profound impact” Benedict had on the Church, both in his theological writings and in his personality – his humility, his kindness, his humor.

“In his writings, he always brought everything back to having a personal encounter with Jesus,” Father Tamayo said. “Without that, nothing means anything.”

Father Osborn, parochial vicar of St. James Parish, Red Bank, and chaplain of Red Bank Catholic High School, said he attributes much of his priestly vocation to Pope Benedict.

“I often feel that Pope John Paul II got me into my [Catholic] faith and Pope Benedict got me into the seminary,” said Father Osborn, who was ordained a priest by Bishop O’Connell in 2016.

Lay faithful at the Memorial Mass thought back to ways in which they were inspired by Benedict, especially during his eight-year papacy.

Gus Vang of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Freehold, fondly recalled April 19, 2005, the day Pope Benedict was elected to the papacy.

“What a special day that was for the Church,” said Vang, who viewed the Memorial Mass to be a time when people could “pray for Pope Benedict and honor the work he did while he was pope.”

Stephany Tuchez of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Hightstown, said she felt very blessed to have the opportunity to attend the Memorial Mass and remember Pope Benedict.

After all, she said, “He was our pope, he was our leader.”

Terry Murray of St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Farmingdale, and Mark Rusoniello, director of religious education in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, echoed Father Tamayo’s sentiments on the impact of Benedict’s writings.

“The things I’ve read that he’s written have been incredible,” said Murray. “He was a terrific writer.” She added that praying for Pope Benedict was something she always did when he was living, and she wanted to continue her prayer for him now that he has entered eternal life.

“What strikes me about Pope Benedict more than anything is that he is a man who knows Jesus Christ,” Rusoniello added. “And Benedict wanted to share what he knows about Jesus so that others may come to know him too.”