8 Surprising Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Pope Benedict XVI

The Papal Visit, Flickr

April 16th is the birthday of Pope Benedict XVI! This year, in 2016, he turns 89.

Here are 8 things about the Pope Emeritus that you probably didn’t know:

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1) He knows how to fly helicopters – but never learned to drive

From CNA a few years ago: “Benedict XVI has a pilot’s license, and liked to fly from the Vatican to the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, but he does not have a driver’s license as he never learned to drive a car.”

2) He was a POW in WWII

Though his family was strongly against Nazism, the young Joseph Ratzinger was forced to join the German military during WWII. He never saw combat and deserted his post near Munich as American forces were approaching. American forces set up a headquarters on his parents farm, where they learned he had been a German soldier. After a few months in a POW camp, he was finally released and hitched a ride home on a milk truck.

3) He knows at least 7 languages

He is fluent in German, English, Italian, French, Spanish, and Latin, and has a working knowledge of Portuguese.

4) He loves taking care of stray cats

He has long been fond of cats and was known by his neighbors when he was a cardinal to look after strays. As pope, he had two cats as pets, including one he had found in Rome.

5) He still has two stuffed animals his mother made for him as a child

He suffered from serious illness as a child, and his mother made him teddy bears. He reportedly has kept them to this day.

6) He’s a skilled pianist

As pope, he made it a priority to make time to regularly play the piano, preferring the works of Mozart and Beethoven. He once said of Mozart’s works: “His music is by no means just entertainment; it contains the whole tragedy of human existence.”

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7) He had repeatedly asked for permission to retire before becoming pope

It is common in the Church today for clergy to retire at age 75. When he was getting close to that, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger repeatedly asked Pope John Paul II for permission to retire from his work as prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Cardinal Ratzinger wanted to become a librarian or take some other job that would be slower-paced and give him more time to write books. John Paul II refused his requests, and Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pope at the age of 78.

8) He’s only the 6th pope in history (of 266 popes) to resign from the papal office

The last pope to resign was Gregory VII in the early 14th century, and it was to help end the Western Schism. It’s anyone’s guess if Benedict has set a new precedent for future popes to follow.

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