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Early life: 1927–51

Joseph Alois Ratzinger was born on 16 April, Holy Saturday, 1927, at Schulstraße 11, at 8:30 in the morning in his parents' home in Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, Germany. He was baptized the same day. He was the third and youngest child of Joseph Ratzinger, Sr., a police officer, and Maria Ratzinger (née Peintner). His mother's family was originally from South Tyrol (now in Italy). Pope Benedict XVI's brother, Georg Ratzinger, a priest and former director of the Regensburger Domspatzen choir, is still alive. His sister, Maria Ratzinger, who never married, managed Cardinal Ratzinger's household until her death in 1991. Their great-uncle was the German politician Georg Ratzinger.

At the age of five, Ratzinger was in a group of children who welcomed the visiting Cardinal Archbishop of Munich with flowers. Struck by the Cardinal's distinctive garb, he later announced the very same day that he wanted to be a cardinal.

Ratzinger attended the elementary school in Aschau, which was renamed in his honour in 2009.[1]

Following his 14th birthday in 1941, Ratzinger was conscripted in the Hitler Youth, as membership was required for all 14-year old German boys after December 1939,[2] but was an unenthusiastic member and refused to attend meetings.[3] (His father was a bitter enemy of Nazism, believing it conflicted with the Catholic faith. In 1941, one of Ratzinger's cousins, a 14-year-old boy with Down syndrome, was taken away by the Nazi regime and killed during the Aktion T4 campaign of Nazi eugenics.[4]) In 1943, while still in seminary, he was drafted into the German anti-aircraft corps. Ratzinger then trained in the German infantry, but a subsequent illness precluded him from the usual rigours of military duty. As the Allied front drew closer to his post in 1945, he deserted back to his family's home in Traunstein after his unit had ceased to exist, just as American troops established their headquarters in the Ratzinger household. As a German soldier, he was put in a POW camp, but was released a few months later at the end of the war in the summer of 1945. He reentered the seminary, along with his brother Georg, in November of that year.

Following repatriation in 1945, the two brothers entered Saint Michael Seminary in Traunstein, later studying at the Ducal Georgianum (Herzogliches Georgianum) of the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich. They were both ordained in Freising on 29 June 1951 by Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber of Munich. Ratzinger recalled: the moment the elderly Archbishop laid his hands on me, a little bird -- perhaps a lark -- flew up from the altar in the high cathedral and trilled a little joyful song.[5]

Ratzinger's 1953 dissertation was on St. Augustine and was entitled "The People and the House of God in Augustine's Doctrine of the Church". His Habilitation (which qualified him for a professorship) was on Bonaventure. It was completed in 1957 and he became a professor of Freising College in 1958.

  1. "Eine Schule mit dem Segen des Papstes [A School Named After the Pope]" (in German). Passauer Neue Presse (Neue Presse Verlags-GmbH). 2009-06-23. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  2. Evans, Richard J (2005). The Third Reich in Power. p. 272. 
  3. "New Pope Defied Nazis As Teen During WWII". Associated Press. USA Today. 2005-04-23. Retrieved 2009-07-10. 
  4. Allen, John (2005-10-14). "Anti-Nazi Prelate Beatified". The Word from Rome (National Catholic Reporter). Retrieved 2008-04-15. 
  5. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger ; translated from the German by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis. (1998). Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977. Ignatious Press. p. 99. ISBN 9780898707021. 

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