This morning I was surprised to hear that Pope Benedict XVI is going to resign at the end of the month due to his physical condition and advanced age. According to reports, this is the first time a pope has resigned in almost 600 years.
Born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI is the ninth German pope and the first German pope in nearly 500 years. According to news reports a new pope is expected to be elected by Easter.
The thought of electing a new pope took me back to August of 1978, the month Pope Pius VI died, the same time my husband Walt were taking a trip to Germany to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary.
You might wonder what the changing of the guard at the Vatican had to do with our vacation. Back in 1978, so did I.
Walt was born in a Bavarian town about thirty miles from Munich, not too far from the town where the current pope (Benedict XVI) was born. Bavaria is a predominantly Catholic area of Germany, strong in faith and strong in tradition. During our vacation I discovered just how strong.
Walt emigrated to the United States when he was a teen. Our vacation was going to be his first return to Germany since he'd left. He planned the trip. His sister Helga helped pay for our tickets, and his sister Irma watched our children. In addition to seeing the sights of Germany, we were going to visit Walt's family and attend the wedding of one of his cousins.
Because of the death of Pope Pius VI on August 6, 1978 -- until a new pope was elected -- the Church was in mourning. After our arrival we found out that the parish priest refused to officiate at Walt's cousin's wedding celebration.
Although I couldn't understand much German at the time, I remember seeing lots of tears and waving of hands and hearing heated exchanges among Walt's relatives. His cousin's wedding had been planned for more than a year. Many Deutschmarks had been spent on dresses and flowers and decorations and music and food wine and beer!
I don't remember if it was because a new pope (Pope John Paul I) was elected, the mourning veil was lifted, or if the family finally prevailed, but the wedding was held on the scheduled date and we were able to attend.
The old Gothic church was beautiful; the wedding was a lavish affair, with a solemn ceremony, a lovely bride, and the hoods of several Mercedes-Benz decorated with flowers. There was lots of food and drink and dancing and singing, and some memorable and unusual traditions.
It's hard to believe our anniversary trip was almost thirty-five years ago. Time flies, memories fade, but some traditions live on.