VATICAN CITY—Making the rounds at Vatican City Thursday as he said a final goodbye to colleagues on his last day as pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI reportedly took a few moments in the early afternoon to stop by the prayer writers’ room and wish his team of ecclesiastical writers a fond farewell.
Poking his head into the casually furnished room on the ground floor of St. Peter’s Basilica, the resigning pope reportedly sat down at the messy writers’ room table and chatted lightheartedly with the young staff of nine writers responsible for penning the masses, sermons, tweets, and encyclical letters delivered to Catholic followers from the Holy See.
“Mind if I sit in?” the Bishop of Rome said as he slid into a chair and looked up at the whiteboard of notes for upcoming homilies, listening intently as writers pitched sermon titles, prayer invocations, and new calls to action. “I think this is looking really good, guys. Wish I could deliver these myself.”
Added the Pope, “Great stuff.”
According to papal sources, the Vatican’s staff of prayer writers meets every day to brainstorm, write, and edit catechetical materials for the Pontiff. The head prayer writer and prayer-writing assistant then meet with Pope Benedict in his office to deliver completed speeches, discuss upcoming liturgies, and receive edits on sermon drafts.
In addition, the head prayer writer is responsible for reviewing prayer submission packets—typically consisting of one full sermon, 10 possible titles for open-air masses, and 10 tweet options for the papal Twitter account—and hiring new writers for the team in the case of an opening.
After sitting with his team of writers for approximately seven minutes and warmly reminiscing about a certain humorously botched sermon from 2009, the Pope told the group of young men and women in their late 20s and early 30s to “be good” before bidding them all farewell and exiting the room.
“Benedict’s great; he’s got good instincts, he’s super talented, and his sensibility leans toward things like sacrificial love and the Gospel of Christ, which are sort of in my wheelhouse,” said head prayer writer Josh Heinz, who joined the papal writing staff in 2006 after years of freelancing at various Catholic archdiocese in the United States. “So it’s definitely a little sad to see him go, especially for some of the older writers like me and Megan and Geoff. Hopefully the new Pope will be as simpatico with our style.”
“Assuming whoever comes in next doesn’t already have his own writers he wants to bring in, that is,” Heinz added. “But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
According to sources in the prayer writers’ room, the staff plans to keep in touch over the interregnum and continue bouncing ideas off each other for new sermons and masses, keeping a close eye on the papal race in the hopes a frontrunner will emerge and they can begin penning outlines for his inaugural mass and Easter sermon.
Aside from that, writers told reporters, they plan to enjoy the unexpected time off and catch up on ecclesiastical writing they haven’t had time to read.
“Last hiatus, I started reading a classic encyclical letter called Vigilante Cure from Pope Pius XI, but then work started back up again and I had to put it down,” staff prayer writer Cole Harrod said. “Though to be honest, after writing sermons all day long, the last thing I want to do when I get home is read more Pope stuff.”