suntimes
SURGE 
Weather Updates

Benedict comes home to new house, new pope

FILE- In this March 23 2013 file phoprovided by Vatican paper L'Osservatore Romano Pope Francis right Pope emeritus Benedict XVI

FILE- In this March 23, 2013 file photo provided by the Vatican paper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis, right, and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI meet in Castel Gandolfo. Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Tuesday April 30, 2013 that retired Pope Benedict XVI is moving into his new retirement home in the Vatican gardens on Thursday. Benedict has been living at the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, in the hills south of Rome, ever since he resigned on Feb. 28 (AP Photo/Osservatore Romano, HO)

storyidforme: 48620481
tmspicid: 18060062
fileheaderid: 8125393
Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: May 2, 2013 10:55AM



VATICAN CITY — Benedict XVI has returned to the Vatican for the first time since he resigned Feb. 28 and met with successor Pope Francis.

The Vatican said Francis greeted Benedict on Thursday at his new retirement home, a converted monastery on the edge of the Vatican gardens, and the two then prayed together in the adjoining chapel.

Benedict’s return to the Vatican signals an unprecedented era with a retired pontiff living alongside a reigning one.

It is the second meeting between the two since Francis was elected pope March 13.

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI flew by helicopter from the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, where he has lived since Feb. 28, when he became the first pope in 600 years to step down.

All eyes will be on Benedict’s physical state as he is welcomed by Pope Francis at his new retirement home, a converted monastery tucked behind St. Peter’s Basilica. The last time he was seen by the public — March 23 — Benedict appeared remarkably more frail and thin than when he left the Vatican on his final day as pope three weeks earlier.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, has acknowledged Benedict’s post-retirement decline but insists the 86-year-old German isn’t suffering from any ailment and is just old.

“He is a man who is not young: He is old and his strength is slowly ebbing,” Lombardi said this week. “However, there is no special illness. He is an old man who is healthy.”

Since his Feb. 28 resignation, Benedict has been “hidden to the world” as he himself predicted, living at the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, in the hills south of Rome. He chose to leave the Vatican immediately after his resignation to physically remove himself from the process of electing his successor and from Pope Francis’ first weeks as pontiff.

His absence also gave workers time to finish up renovations on the monastery on the edge of the Vatican gardens that until last year housed groups of cloistered nuns who were invited for a few years at a time to live inside the Vatican to pray for the pontiff and church at large.

In the small building, with a chapel attached, Benedict will live with his personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, and the four consecrated women who look after him, preparing his meals and tending to the household. Inside the small building, Benedict has at his disposal a small library and a study. A guest room is available for when his brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, comes to visit.

“It is certainly small but well-equipped,” Lombardi said.

When Benedict announced his intention to resign — the first pontiff to do so in 600 years — questions immediately swirled about the implications of having two popes living alongside one another inside the Vatican.

Benedict fueled those concerns when he chose to be called “emeritus pope” and “Your Holiness” rather than “emeritus bishop of Rome.” He also raised eyebrows when he chose to continue wearing the white cassock of the papacy.

Given the political intrigues that plague the Vatican, it wasn’t much of a stretch of the imagination to wonder if some cardinals, bishops and monsignors — not to mention ordinary Catholics — might continue making Benedict their point of reference rather than the new pope.

However, Benedict made clear on his final day as pope that he was renouncing the job and pledged his “unconditional reverence and obedience” to his then-unknown successor. It was a pledge he repeated in person on March 23 when Francis went to have lunch with him at Castel Gandolfo.

It was during that visit that the world saw how frail Benedict had become in the three weeks since his emotional departure from the Apostolic Palace: Always a man with a purposeful walk, he shuffled tentatively that day, using his cane.

Francis, for his part, seems utterly unfazed by the novel situation unfolding. He has frequently invoked Benedict’s name and work and has called him on a half-dozen occasions, making clear he has no intention of ignoring the fact that there’s another pope still very much alive and now living on the other side of the garden from the Vatican hotel where he lives.

Francis’ gestures to Benedict during that March 23 visit were also remarkable: He refused to pray on the special papal kneeler in the small chapel of Castel Gandolfo, preferring to join Benedict on a kneeler in the pews, and referring to his predecessor as his “brother.”

Now that they’re neighbors, they might bump into one another on walks in the Vatican gardens or at the shrine to the Madonna on the top of the hill, just a stone’s throw from Benedict’s new home.

———

Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.