From a recent episode of Fr. Groeschel’s Sunday Night Live, in which George Weigel shares about the friendship between Pope John Paul II and then-Cardinal Ratzinger:
I don’t know of a relationship of this consequence for the life of the church that is quite like this… certainly [in] the modern history of the papacy. They worked in very close harness for more than twenty years, and they did it as very different types of guys. I mean, you have this great public personality, and you have this more shy and retiring scholar. You have a philosopher and you have a theologian. You have a Pole and you have a German. All of this should not have worked and yet it worked fantastically well, which is to both of their credit. I think each saw in the other something that he didn’t have. John Paul II clearly recognized in Ratzinger a more comprehensive theological intelligence than his own. Ratzinger saw in Wojtyla a personality of the type he could never be and didn’t pretend to be, which is good, because you can’t fake this stuff. Real humility on both sides as well as genuine affection.
It’s worth thinking about how they were the same, though. These are two men who both were formed in this great Catholic renewal ferment in central Europe in the mid-twentieth century: the movement to rediscover the Bible and the Fathers of the Church; the liturgical movement in its early classical period; the Catholic social doctrine movement, etc; the renewal of theology and philosophy. There was this great ferment going on that eventually produced the Second Vatican Council, at which these two men played significant roles, and of whom they are the last two great witnesses.
We have no idea who the next Pope will be; one thing we know for absolutely certain is that he will not have been at the Second Vatican Council. In fact, were Pope Benedict XVI to be Leo XIII 2.0, which could happen, the next pope might not have even been born at the time of the Second Vatican Council. So I raise this because these two men who… have to be seen in tandem represent both the apogee — the high point — and the end of a period. With the death of Pope Benedict (which we hope is many, many years away)… with the end of that pontificate we will have brought this period in the history of the Church to a close. So we’re very, very fortunate that this (pardon the phrase) “cashed out” the way it did with these two personalities and their capacity to work together.
Full podcast here.