VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI's final message to Catholics around the world was: "Stand firm in the faith! Do not let yourselves be confused!"
Less than 10 hours after informing the world that the 95-year-old pope had died Dec. 31, the Vatican press office released his spiritual testament, a statement of faith and of thanksgiving.
Unlike St. John Paul II's spiritual testament, Pope Benedict's included no instructions for his funeral or burial and made no mention of what should happen to his belongings.
"To all those whom I have wronged in any way, I ask forgiveness from my heart," Pope Benedict wrote.
Written in German and dated Aug. 29, 2006 -- in the second year of his almost eight-year pontificate -- Pope Benedict wrote with great affection of his parents, his sister and his brother, the beauty of Bavaria and his faith in God.
"If at this late hour of my life I look back over the decades I have been living, I first see how many reasons I have to give thanks," he wrote in the document when he was 79 years old.
"First of all, I thank God himself, the giver of every good gift, who gave me life and guided me through various moments of confusion; always picking me up whenever I began to slip and always giving me the light of his countenance again," he said. "In retrospect I see and understand that even the dark and tiring stretches of this path were for my salvation and that it was in them that he guided me well."
Born in 1927, Joseph Ratzinger was raised in a Germany struggling to recover from the first World War; Adolf Hitler came to power when the future pope was only 7.
In his testament, he offered thanks to his parents, "who gave me life in a difficult time and who, at the cost of great sacrifices, with their love prepared a magnificent home that like a clear light still enlightens my days."
"My father's lucid faith taught us children to believe, and as a signpost it has always stood firm in the midst of all my academic achievements," he said. "My mother's profound devotion and great goodness are a legacy for which I cannot thank her enough."
Pope Benedict thanked God for the many friends, both men and women, he had had by his side, and for his teachers and students -- many of whom he continued to meet with late in his life.
A pope known for his concern for the environment, he thanked God for the beauty of his Bavarian homeland, "in which I always saw the splendor of the Creator himself shining through."
"I pray that our land remains a land of faith," he wrote before pleading with his fellow Germans to let nothing draw them from the faith.
"And, finally," he wrote, "I thank God for all the beauty I experienced at every stage of my journey, especially in Rome and in Italy, which became my second homeland."
Addressing the whole church, Pope Benedict urged Catholics to hold fast to their faith and to not let science or research shake the foundations of their belief.
"It often seems as if science -- the natural sciences on the one hand and historical research, like the exegesis of Sacred Scripture, on the other -- are able to offer irrefutable results at odds with the Catholic faith," he said.
But he assured those reading the document that throughout his life he had seen science offer "apparent certainties against the faith" only to see them vanish, "proving not to be science, but philosophical interpretations only apparently pertaining to science."
At the same time, he said, "it is in dialogue with the natural sciences that faith too has learned to better understand the limit of the scope of its claims, and thus its specificity."
In 60 years of theological study and observation, he said, he had seen "unshakable" theses collapse, including those offered by thinkers like German theologian Adolf von Harnack, existentialist biblical scholar Rudolf Bultmann, and the "Marxist generation" of theologians.
"The reasonableness of faith has emerged and is emerging again," he wrote. "Jesus Christ is truly the way, the truth and the life -- and the church, with all its inadequacies, is truly his body."
In the end, Pope Benedict wrote, "I humbly ask: pray for me, so that the Lord, despite all my sins and inadequacies, may receive me into his eternal dwelling."
Here is the full text of Pope Benedict XVI's spiritual testament in English, courtesy of Vatican News:
When, at this late hour of my life, I look back on the decades I have wandered through, I see first of all how much reason I have to give thanks. Above all, I thank God Himself, the giver of all good gifts, who has given me life and guided me through all kinds of confusion; who has always picked me up when I began to slip, who has always given me anew the light of his countenance. In retrospect, I see and understand that even the dark and arduous stretches of this path were for my salvation and that He guided me well in those very stretches.
I thank my parents, who gave me life in difficult times and prepared a wonderful home for me with their love, which shines through all my days as a bright light until today. My father's clear-sighted faith taught us brothers and sisters to believe and stood firm as a guide in the midst of all my scientific knowledge; my mother's heartfelt piety and great kindness remain a legacy for which I cannot thank her enough. My sister has served me selflessly and full of kind concern for decades; my brother has always paved the way for me with the clear-sightedness of his judgements, with his powerful determination, and with the cheerfulness of his heart; without this ever-new going ahead and going along, I would not have been able to find the right path.
I thank God from the bottom of my heart for the many friends, men and women, whom He has always placed at my side; for the co-workers at all stages of my path; for the teachers and students He has given me. I gratefully entrust them all to His goodness. And I would like to thank the Lord for my beautiful home in the Bavarian foothills of the Alps, in which I was able to see the splendour of the Creator Himself shining through time and again. I thank the people of my homeland for allowing me to experience the beauty of faith time and again. I pray that our country will remain a country of faith and I ask you, dear compatriots, not to let your faith be distracted. Finally, I thank God for all the beauty I was able to experience during the various stages of my journey, but especially in Rome and in Italy, which has become my second home.
I ask for forgiveness from the bottom of my heart from all those whom I have wronged in some way.
What I said earlier of my compatriots, I now say to all who were entrusted to my service in the Church: Stand firm in the faith! Do not be confused! Often it seems as if science - on the one hand, the natural sciences; on the other, historical research (especially the exegesis of the Holy Scriptures) - has irrefutable insights to offer that are contrary to the Catholic faith. I have witnessed from times long past the changes in natural science and have seen how apparent certainties against the faith vanished, proving themselves not to be science but philosophical interpretations only apparently belonging to science - just as, moreover, it is in dialogue with the natural sciences that faith has learned to understand the limits of the scope of its affirmations and thus its own specificity. For 60 years now, I have accompanied the path of theology, especially biblical studies, and have seen seemingly unshakeable theses collapse with the changing generations, which turned out to be mere hypotheses: the liberal generation (Harnack, Jülicher, etc.), the existentialist generation (Bultmann, etc.), the Marxist generation. I have seen, and see, how, out of the tangle of hypotheses, the reasonableness of faith has emerged and is emerging anew. Jesus Christ is truly the Way, the Truth, and the Life - and the Church, in all her shortcomings, is truly His Body.
Finally, I humbly ask: pray for me, so that the Lord may admit me to the eternal dwellings, despite all my sins and shortcomings. For all those entrusted to me, my heartfelt prayer goes out day after day.
Benedictus PP XVI.