23 Mar 2013

Pope Francis meets ‘brother’ Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

A reigning pope and former pope face each other for the first time in at least 600 years on Saturday, as Pope Francis lunches with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as “brothers”.

Popes meet for lunch in Italy (Image: Reuters)

Pope Francis, who was elected on March 13, arrived by helicopter at the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo for a meeting and lunch with Benedict, who has been living here since he abdicated on February 28.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Benedict and Francis embraced when the helicopter which brought Francis from Rome landed at the residence.

The pontiff and Benedict later prayed together in a chapel and held 45 minutes of private talks before starting a lunch, where they were joined by their two personal secretaries. Lombardi said the atmosphere was “family-like”.

When they went to pray in the chapel, Benedict offered the place of honour, a kneeler before the altar, to Francis, who declined, saying, “We are brothers, we pray together.” The two then prayed together from the same pew, Lombardi said.

Read more: Profile of Pope Francis

Benedict, who became the first pope in 600 years to resign instead of ruling for life, is temporarily living in the residence in the Alban Hills.

He will move back to the Vatican after the restoration of a convent where he is expected to live for the rest of his life.

Shortly before his resignation, Benedict, now 85 and in failing health, said he would be “withdrawing into prayer” and would live out his remaining days “hidden from the world”.

In February, on the last day of his nearly eight years as leader of the Catholic Church, Benedict pledged his unconditional obedience to whoever would succeed him.

The conclave of cardinals who elected Francis began on March 12 and chose Francis the next day.

While the Vatican was not expected to give any information on what the two discussed, it was likely that the conversation included problems of Vatican administration.