Pope Benedict's death triggers memories and tribute in Switzerland

This content was published on December 31, 2022 minutes
Pope Benedict made an unannounced visit to Switzerland on July 18, 2006. He strolled across the Italian-Swiss border during his Italian Alpine holiday to visit a monastery and a kennel of St. Bernard dogs Keystone / Arturo Mari

Former Pope Benedict XVI, who made history deciding to resign in 2013 instead of ruling for life, died on Saturday aged 95 in the Vatican. Swiss President Ignazio Cassis paid tribute to the pope, while Swiss media were quick to reminisce on the many moments connecting him to Switzerland.  

The first German pope in centuries never visited Switzerland in an official capacity during his pontificate but he had multiple points of contact with the Alpine Nation. He petted St. Bernard dogs in canton Valais and canonised the first Swiss woman.

On the day of his election as pope in April 2005, the then Swiss Defense Minister, Samuel Schmid, congratulated Pope Benedict XVI by telegram on behalf of the Federal Council and the Swiss people, wishing him "a fruitful pontificate".

Barely two months later, the Pope criticised a Swiss referendum approving a more liberal partnership law, which paved the way for same-sex couples to register their partnerships. Like other European countries, Switzerland, under the influence of technological change and the public opinion of some of its citizens, had enacted new laws "that touched on respect for family and life," Benedict said at the  time.

Celebrating the Swiss Guard

The following year was marked by the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Swiss Guard. On May 6, Pope Benedict XVI honoured them with a mass and called on the smallest army in the world to look to the future with "courage and fidelity".

The event drew a top brass delegation from Switzerland. In attendance were the then president, Moritz Leuenberger, along with Chief of the Armed Forces Christophe Keckeis, Amédée Grab, who was the president of the Swiss Bishops' Conference, and the three Swiss cardinals.

The mass and the solemn swearing-in ceremony in the afternoon represented the highlight of the anniversary celebrations, which had already begun in January. The first Swiss Guards had come to Rome in 1506 at the request of Pope Julius II. On January 22, the first contingent of 150 men began their service in the Vatican.

Visiting the Barrys

In July 2006, Benedict spent his summer holiday in Italy's Aosta Valley. From there he paid a visit to the Augustinian monks at the Great St. Bernard Hospice and prayed with them. Leaving the hospice through a side door, the pope met about 200 tourists who had actually wanted to visit the monastery and unexpectedly got to see the pope.

Benedict XVI then also visited the hospice's famous St. Bernard breeding facility. It had been run by the monks until 2005, when it was sold to the "Barry Foundation".

Benedict's term also saw the first canonisation of a Swiss woman. After more than 50 years of investigation of two "miracles", this honour was bestowed on nun Maria Bernarda Bütler (1848-1924) on October 12, 2008. She was born in canton Aargau and served as a nun in Colombia.

At the beginning of May 2010, the then Swiss president, Doris Leuthard, paid an official visit to the Vatican. Leuthard's conversation with the pope lasted 25 minutes and addressed politically explosive topics such as the cases of abuse in the Catholic Church, the ban on minarets in Switzerland and the debates on a burqa ban.

In November of the same year Bishop Kurt Koch became the fourth cardinal from Switzerland to be appointed by the pope.

Funeral plans

No cause of death was provided for the longest-living pope. Earlier this week Pope Francis disclosed that his predecessor was very ill. He had received his last rites, called "the anointing of the sick", on Wednesday. The Vatican said his body would lie in state from Monday in St. Peter's Basilica and his funeral would be held on the morning of January 5. 

Cassis turned to Twitter to pay tribute to the pope emeritus. "Pope Benedict XVI was able to combine great intellectual depth and modesty, always working for the good of humanity," he wrote. 

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