As of yesterday, Benedict XVI is no longer Pope; the Sede Vacante has begun. I remember how strange it seemed when he became pope. For my age group, John Paul II had "always" been pope. Even though I wasn't religious at the time, it still seemed pretty surprising not to have John Paul II as Pope anymore. "Benedict our Pope" in the Eucharistic prayer sounded totally weird. (And I didn't even go to Mass much then). A lot has changed for me since then.
During the period while Benedict was pope, I came back to the Church, which is probably the most important fact about my life during that time. If John Paul II was the Pope of my childhood, Benedict XVI was the Pope of my conversion back to the faith. This is not to say that him being Pope had anything specifically to do with it. But his papacy spans from my being an indifferent Catholic to being an active and more faithful Catholic. And from being a single person to a married person, which probably the second most important thing to happen in my life. So many of the ideas I had before about the Church, about my life are different now. Some are more developed, some more mature, some almost opposite (in a good way). I have learned that conversion is an ongoing journey of faith, and I am still on that journey.
In April of 2008, my senior year of college, Benedict came to the United States for a visit. I was able to go with a group of friends and classmates to the youth rally held in Yonkers. It was a great experience. After it, my dad encouraged me to write down my memory of the day, while it was still in my mind. I did, and I still have it. Here's part of it:
Then he goes up to the stage, and the crowd was cheering like crazy. Several different chants came up throughout the whole time, "Papa," "Viva Papa," "Benedict 16 Benedict," [that one still makes me laugh] and "We Love You" (of course). We tried to start "B-16," but it didn’t really catch on. The whole thing was like a prayer service and he addressed us. His address was great, I need to find a transcript [darn, I don't think I ever did]. When he spoke to us it was very personal. It wasn’t only him as Pope, it was him as a person. We also sang Happy Birthday to him in German, and he specifically thanked us for doing that and gave us “A+ for pronunciation.”