Some of the most moving moments in my week-long interviews with Msgr. Georg Ratzinger on which our book "My Brother, the Pope" was based, were those when he remembered how both brothers reinforced another's faith.
Keep in mind, Georg Ratzinger was the older brother, born three years before Joseph, who later became Pope. In a certain way, he became his role-model, although both brothers were different in both mentality and gifts. In Georg's case, it was his love for music which developed rather early. Joseph, on the other hand, was the little genius, the best of his class at school, a loner in the afternoons, who enjoyed nothing more than to be with his books, either in the hay of his parent's stable or out there in nature, in the green meadows of their Bavarian homeland. What united both was not only the common blood, as two sons of a very close and loving family, but, first of all, their common Catholic faith and their rural Bavarian piety, which determined the events of the year and enriched the everyday life of the Ratzingers.
"From our parents we learned what it means to have hold in the faith in God" is certainly one of the most important sentences in our book. Common prayer was a regular and important part of their day, next to the regular and at least weekly Holy Mass in their Parish Church. The First Holy Communion, which Georg received three years earlier than his little brother, was the highlight of their childhood. "When the religious life is already practiced in the family, it influences the whole rest of your life," Georg Ratzinger states. "This forms your whole life and directs it towards God. It creates a fertile ground for the priestly vocation."
For Georg Ratzinger it was "completely organic" that he became a priest; not by a special event, a certain call, but by harmonic growth. When time has come, he served at the altar, became a Ministrant; an honor and duty for Catholic boys, at that time even more than today. There, serving the priest, he begun to realize that this is where he belongs to, that the Lord's altar is his place in life; now as a server, in the future as a priest. Georg Ratzinger never questioned his call. He was just sure that this was God's plan for him.
At that time, little Joseph looked up to his "big brother," both proud and maybe a little bit jealous that he was not yet allowed to serve at the altar, impatiently waiting for his time to come. "I don't know if I became a role-model for my brother in a certain way," Georg Ratzinger writes in a typical understatement, "but at least he saw in my example how life would look like, when he himself decided to follow me on this way. We never directly spoke about it, but I can very well imagine that my example at least encouraged and confirmed him in his decision."
Still, the Ratzinger boys had to overcome the dark times of the Nazi dictatorship and World War II. It certainly was an inner opposition which strengthened their decision to resist the diabolical "Zeitgeist" and decide for Christ and His Church. They couldn't wait for the war to end and to the new challenge in their life, to become priests and to teach the Gospel in post-war Germany. Due to the years Georg Ratzinger had to serve in the German "Wehrmacht" and the following time as a POW, both started their Theological Studies at the Seminary in Freising at the same time, on Jan. 3, 1946. Suddenly, the "small brother" was a co-seminarian in the same class. Eventually, on June 29, 1951, one after the other, Georg and Joseph Ratzinger both proclaimed their "Adsum." Two brothers in faith became priests -- and vowed to strengthen not only each other but all believers in their common faith. This was the beginning of two of the most remarkable careers of the 20th century: Georg Ratzinger became the famous choir-leader, touring around the world with the Regensburg Cathedral Boy Choir, the "Regensburger Domspatzen"; and Joseph Germany's most important theologian, before he was called to Rome and was eventually elected on the See of St. Peter. Both learned that nothing is impossible, if your faith is strong.
Below, a slideshow of photos of the Pope and his family
Joseph Ratzinger Jr. (left), Georg Ratzinger, Maria (Peintner) Ratzinger, Maria Ratzinger, Joseph Ratzinger Sr. (Note this is from 1937)
Maria (left), Joseph and Georg Ratzinger
Maria (left), Georg and Joseph Ratzinger
Pope Benedict XVI (left) and Msgr. Georg Ratzinger